Raynor faces city council

Elections chief offers few answers on how to fix the problems by November 7

Maryland Votes 2006

September 20, 2006|By John Fritze | John Fritze,sun reporter

City Council members grilled Baltimore election director Gene M. Raynor yesterday over glitches faced by city voters during the primary election, but they received few answers on who was to blame or how local officials will address the problems before November.

Raynor, who arrived at City Hall alone and took questions from angry council members for more than two hours, said last Tuesday's problems were systemic and long-standing -- especially the lack of Republican election judges that forced an unknown number of polling places to open late. Raynor vowed to have a plan to fix some of those problems by today.

"Based on this election ... I would grade myself possibly a `D,' for deficient," said Raynor, who later told reporters that what he meant was the entire elections agency deserved the low grade for the primary performance. "You can call me the week before the election ... and we'll see whether or not we're in perfect order. And if we're not, I'll tell you exactly why we're not."

In quiet, measured tones, Raynor responded to dozens of anecdotes about what went wrong on Election Day -- late openings, voting machine hangups, missing provisional ballots and even snippy poll workers -- from the council members, many of whom witnessed the problems firsthand. But in many cases, the responsibility for the problems, and possible solutions, remained unclear

Raynor said the company contracted by the state to provide Maryland's new election system, Ohio-based Diebold, was responsible for training poll workers to use the touch-screen voting machines. Both city election workers and Diebold representatives ran the training sessions, which covered election law, the voting machines and the new electronic voter check-in system.

Raynor said he believed that not enough people showed up to receive that training. He also said that when he raised that concern with the local election board before the election, he was told that an appropriate number of people had received the training.

Still, council members said they were dismayed that neither Raynor nor Baltimore Election Board President Armstead B. Crawley Jones Sr. were prepared to offer concrete solutions to the problems. Raynor said he expects to present a 10-step plan today that was requested by state elections officials to deal with some of the problems.

"This was the most frustrating election I ever sat through," Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector said. "What the hell is going on? We have got to train our people better."

Council President Sheila Dixon said she wants Raynor and Jones to appear before the council in 10 days to explain whatever repairs are devised for the Nov. 7 general election, when many more voters are expected to turn out. Jones and Raynor said that plan would be reviewed by the local elections board this morning.

Dixon noted the palpable and increasingly public tension that has emerged between Raynor and Jones -- who sat conspicuously apart in the council chamber yesterday. Raynor was appointed by the board as executive director this year, though Jones applied for the position. Raynor has argued that Jones has turned the election agency's staff against him in retaliation.

"It's very clear that the executive director and the board have some real major issues with each other," Dixon said after the hearing. "I think that plays a great deal into why we had so much chaos. There's a disconnect."

In some sense, the emergency council hearing was the latest skirmish in what has become a proxy campaign between gubernatorial candidates Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democratic Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

O'Malley is aligned politically with a majority of Democrats on the City Council and has often feuded with Raynor, who is cozy with Ehrlich.

Ehrlich, meanwhile, has focused his attention on State Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone, a Democrat who was appointed the state's top election official by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Ehrlich summoned Lamone to appear before the state Board of Public Works today to answer questions about the election.

Lamone sent letters last week requesting that election officials in Baltimore and three other jurisdictions -- Montgomery, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties -- craft plans to fire tardy election judges, offer refresher training before the general election and ensure that everyone who receives that training is actually assigned to polling places.

Maryland elections are run by 24 local boards -- representing the city and the 23 counties -- with a state agency providing oversight. Because a Republican controls the governor's office, the local election boards have Republican majorities.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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