Posturing over glitches

Ehrlich to question Democratic administrator

Democrats blame his appointees

Maryland Votes 2006

September 15, 2006|By John Fritze and Andrew A. Green | John Fritze and Andrew A. Green,sun reporters

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. summoned Maryland's top election official to appear before the Board of Public Works to explain the glitches that turned an untold number of voters away from the polls during Tuesday's primary election.

In a letter released by the governor's office yesterday, Ehrlich said state election administrator Linda H. Lamone must answer for an apparent lack of training of some poll workers and for problems with the state's electronic voter check-in system that caused confusion and delayed the results of some races by nearly a day.

"You repeatedly reassured the Board of Public Works that the various elections systems would operate without problems," the governor's letter said. "Contrary to your statements, the state and some local boards of elections encountered major problems in the conduct of the primary election."

The letter came as both political parties sought to redirect blame for an election that frustrated thousands of voters, especially in Baltimore and Montgomery County. Republicans fault Lamone, a Democrat, while Democrats criticize the local boards of election, which are appointed by the governor.

A lack of election judges delayed the opening of many Baltimore polling places, and some closed at 8 p.m. despite a court order that extended voting to 9 p.m. In Montgomery County, cards needed to activate the state's touch-screen voting machines were not delivered to polling places before the election, forcing many to vote on paper ballots instead.

In his letter, Ehrlich said he would provide whatever funding is necessary to ready the balloting system for the Nov. 7 general election. He asked that Lamone appear before the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday to "discuss the issues pertaining to the implementation of the electronic voting systems contracts."

Lamone did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday.

Democrats, including Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and General Assembly leaders, said the local boards were to blame. Those boards - which, because of Ehrlich's election, have a Republican majority for the first time in decades - make policy decisions and oversee the day-to-day work of election administrators.

"You need to place responsibility where responsibility lies, and Governor Ehrlich has appointed the local boards of elections, including in the two jurisdictions where there were the most problems, which happen to include two of the most Democratic jurisdictions in the state," said O'Malley, who is running against Ehrlich for governor.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch wrote their own letter yesterday to the state's Department of Legislative Services, calling for an audit of the Baltimore and Montgomery County election offices. The two argue that the problems were the result of local officials' "questionable decision-making."

In Baltimore, Democrats attacked Gene M. Raynor, the city's election director, who has feuded with O'Malley and who is aligned politically with Ehrlich and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. It was Raynor, many of his critics said, who failed to organize poll judges in the city and failed to react quickly enough when problems began.

"His only responsibility is to get things to work on two days every few years. And he failed," O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney said.

City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young, a Democrat, said he was not ready to blame any one individual for the problems but promised to introduce a City Council resolution calling for Raynor to appear before a committee to explain what went wrong. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan has called for the firing of the election chief there.

Raynor said the election board was hurt by the gap between the retirement of his predecessor, Barbara Jackson, and his appointment and that dissension and jealousy made it difficult for him to get needed information.

He said that he and board president Armstead B. Crawley Jones Sr. "don't get along," that relationships between him and some staff members were "icy" and that he was given tardy and faulty information throughout the election.

"You think I'm not upset?" he said. "I'm trying to solve the problem, but I can't do it without the information."

Ehrlich appointees tried to fire Lamone two years ago, and Ehrlich has been strongly critical of her. Democrats responded by passing a law that makes it more difficult for the governor's appointees to fire Lamone.

Republicans blame Democrats for trying to enact early voting - a system that would have allowed people to cast ballots before Election Day and that necessitated the purchase of the electronic poll books that gave election judges trouble around the state. Early voting was thrown out by the courts as illegal under the Maryland constitution, but the poll books stayed.

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