Primary debacles

September 13, 2006

Elections can't be run this sloppily. For all the Sturm und Drang about voting machines and early voting that preceded Maryland's primary election, it was old-fashioned human error that caused the worst snafus. Oh, there were technology issues, too, but it wasn't a computer that caused Montgomery County election officials to forget to deliver the requisite cards activating the touch-screen voting machines. Nor was there anything high tech about Baltimore and other jurisdictions not having enough judges to staff the polls on time.

The lack of computer cards proved a particularly vexing problem for voters in Montgomery County. Officials compared it to sending out the old-style optical ballots without pens to mark them up. The lack of judges is a perennial Election Day issue, particularly in overwhelmingly Democratic precincts such as Baltimore's where it's not easy recruiting enough Republicans to serve on what is required to be a bipartisan staff. Of course, the long hours and tedious duties are enough to dissuade anybody but the most civic-minded from serving as a judge in the first place.

And while officials reported few problems with the actual voting machines, the new electronic voter check-in system did suffer its share of glitches. Fortunately, the consequences were not as serious, and officials are confident that particular problem can be corrected.

It's too early to assign blame. But the problems were almost certainly exacerbated by the highly partisan procedural debate that has surrounded this election. For instance, delays in acquiring the voter check-in system (the contract was put on hold for weeks) gave local election boards less time to train their personnel.

Certainly the Democrats also did themselves no favors by continuing to politicize these issues yesterday - for instance, issuing press statements pointing out that Republicans control local election boards. That may be true, but it's hardly constructive or particularly relevant criticism at this point.

What's needed now is a measure of statesmanship and a concerted effort to improve the system before November's general election. Finding more people to serve as election judges and properly training them would be a step in the right direction.

No qualified voter should ever be turned away from a polling place no matter what the reason. How ironic that in a year where early voting was discarded by the courts, we ended up with court-ordered late-voting instead - in the form of provisional ballots cast after the normal 8 p.m. closing time in Montgomery County and Baltimore. That can't be allowed to happen again.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.