Election Day hassle for state's Kennedys

Shriver nearly casts vote for opponent

Townsend confronted by poll judge

Election 2002

September 11, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

It was a tough day at the polling places yesterday for the two members of the Kennedy clan who were on the ballot in Maryland.

One nearly voted for his opponent - and was later stung by yellow jackets. The other almost wasn't allowed to vote at all.

In a tight race for Congress where every vote mattered, Del. Mark K. Shriver, a nephew of President John F. Kennedy, took his 2-year-old son, Tommy, with him to vote at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bethesda - and let the toddler help by pushing the button next to his dad's name.

Instead, Tommy accidentally cast the ballot for former Clinton trade negotiator Ira Shapiro.

"Ira's right above Mark, and he just slipped," said Shriver aide Kim Elliott.

With Montgomery County's new touch-screen voting, though, a do-over was easy. Shriver reset his votes in the four-way Democratic primary - and laughed as he and his son pushed the right button the second time.

Later, as he and his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, greeted voters at the Leisure World of Maryland retirement community in Silver Spring, they were stung by yellow jackets.

They were not seriously harmed, Elliott said.

Meanwhile, Shriver's cousin, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Democratic candidate for governor, ran into a feisty poll judge at Ridge Ruxton School in Towson, her longtime polling place.

In what is a tradition in politics, candidates are followed to the polls by a phalanx of reporters and photographers. The smiling candidate casting a vote is a staple of election coverage on the evening news and in the newspapers.

But at Ridge Ruxton, Townsend's entourage of reporters and staffers were deemed disruptive by Democratic poll judge Omar Pulliam, a 16-year veteran of elections there.

"What we were trying to do was protect our turf," Pulliam, 69, a retired educator, later explained.

As cameras rolled, Pulliam confronted the group accompanying Townsend.

"Why do you want to cause this particular scene? I am asking you, why?" he asked. "Now all of you move over here or the police will be here to remove you."

As he spoke, Townsend had her back to the cameras and continued to cast her ballot.

"Kathleen," he said forcefully, "please don't vote. Do not vote."

"She can vote," countered Townsend spokeswoman Kate Philips. "This is her right. It's her right to vote." Townsend eventually finished voting.

According to Linda H. Lamone, the state's administrator of elections, "it's up to the judges" at each polling place to decide whether the news media can photograph a candidate voting.

Pulliam said cameras are permitted, but the presence of so many was disruptive, particularly to other voters.

"Her press secretary said, `This is just a photo shoot,'" Pulliam said. "But it's not a photo shoot when you have someone like that in here running for office."

The Townsend campaign issued a statement yesterday afternoon: "At no time was any voter disenfranchised or at risk of being disenfranchised. But on Election Day, it's important that we review our commitment to open elections, and the news media's important role in that open elections process."

Staff writer Dennis O'Brien contributed to this report.

To see video of the Townsend voting confrontation, go to www.sunspot.net/video.

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