Solution to voting problems ordered

Md. elections chief tells city, 3 counties to avert repeat of Tuesday errors

Maryland Votes 2006

September 17, 2006|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

The state's embattled elections chief ordered Baltimore and three counties yesterday to immediately craft plans to fix the myriad problems that crippled Tuesday's primary election and left untold numbers of voters frustrated by late-opening polls and malfunctioning equipment.

Acting from guidance she had requested from the attorney general's office, state elections administrator Linda H. Lamone ordered a 10-point plan for Baltimore that includes the firing of tardy election judges, a refresher training session for all election judges, and clear assignments for each poll worker who meets requirements.

Lamone asked city election director Gene Raynor to respond to her directive by Wednesday - the same day she has been summoned to explain what went wrong last week to a panel of the state's top officials - and said she wants the four local election boards to pay for the additional training before the Nov. 7 general election.

Major mistakes bogged down Tuesday's primary election. Equipment abruptly turned off or went missing, vote totals didn't arrive on time, and many volunteers lacked the know-how to start and operate the state's new and, for the first time, entirely electronic voting system. Circuit judges ordered polls to stay open an extra hour in Baltimore, where many election judges were no-shows, and in Montgomery County, where human error prevented a crucial electronic component from being delivered to polling stations.

In addition to the city and Montgomery County, Lamone's corrective orders went to Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

A spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had not reviewed the orders as of yesterday afternoon. But spokesman Henry Fawell said, "Anyone can implement quick fixes, but the jury is still out."

Raynor and Baltimore Board of Elections President Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. said they had not seen the letter. When informed of the details yesterday, Raynor said that he and Lamone "were on the same page concerning election judges" and reserved further comment until he received the letter.

An irate Jones, however, accused Lamone of playing a "blame game." Rather than an across-the-board policy of firing late poll workers, individual circumstances should be reviewed, he said.

"She needs to stop playing games and be reminded that much of the training is done by Diebold," the manufacturer of the state's electronic voting equipment, Jones said. "She keeps saying to get competent people to do the training. Well, if Diebold isn't competent, why did she hire them? She keeps pushing all of the weight on the local boards, but she has to take some weight herself."

Maryland elections are run by 24 boards - representing the city and each of the 23 counties - with a state agency providing oversight. With the election of Ehrlich in 2002, each election board is composed of three Republican and two Democratic appointees.

Lamone is a holdover from the administration of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, and Ehrlich has been rebuffed in his attempts to oust her.

Ehrlich has asked Lamone to appear at Wednesday's state Board of Public Works meeting to discuss the primary-day problems. Fawell, the governor's spokesman, said yesterday that Lamone has not responded to the request.

After Tuesday's election mess, Lamone directed Diebold to produce a report on "software problems" that caused the electronic poll books to abruptly crash and reboot. According to a news release distributed by her office yesterday, a report is expected this week.

Lamone had also asked the attorney general's office for permission to take over the poll worker training in Baltimore.

The attorney general's office concluded Friday - in a letter released yesterday - that Lamone could "direct, support, monitor, and evaluate" actions by local boards but not perform them.

For Montgomery, Lamone is calling for a detailed report on how local election officials first learned that the voter access cards, used to activate voting machines, were not included in poll-worker supply kits, and she wants a plan to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

For Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, Lamone ordered refresher training for all chief judges. For Prince George's, she also asked for better recruitment and training of technicians, who help with the assembly of the equipment and closing of the polls.

At the end of all of the training, participants must prove that they can "complete a designated list of tasks on the voting unit and electronic poll books," the state's new voter check-in system. Robert J. Antonetti Sr., elections director in Prince George's County, said that the new training would cost about $15,000.

"To me this is money well spent," he said. "We had all of these improvements in motion the day after the election. This is not something new that she thought up."

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