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Maryland Votes 2006 -- A Special Section

November 08, 2006|By Chris Yakaitis | Chris Yakaitis,special to the sun

With technical problems apparently solved in time for yesterday's election, Marylanders were left facing other issues in a still-imperfect voting process: outdated registration lists, construction projects - and the irresistible temptation of Thin Mints.

Election workers reported a quiet day at the polls, with a solid morning turnout before light rain moved across the state in the early afternoon.

Frank Thomas, 71, stood outside Thomas Johnson Elementary School in Baltimore as the rain began to fall, his hands tucked into his jacket. Now working with a campaign, he once served a similar duty as a police officer assigned to the polls in the 1950s and '60s.

"They didn't care if you had to go to the bathroom or not. You had to stay on that spot," he said.

Thomas expected a long day. "This governor's race is going to be nip and tuck all the way."

Diebold trainer David Bass spent the past five months preparing to handle any Election Day problems with his company's computerized polling equipment. What he got instead yesterday was a $250 cab ride around Baltimore delivering one of the most low-tech pieces of voting equipment - the so-called "mobility bracket."

The bracket - a metal, ruler-like stand about 10 inches long by an inch wide - helps prop up and stabilize the screen so disabled voters can more easily see it as they vote. Though disabled voters can vote without the bracket, election workers prefer to use it because voters are more comfortable and their privacy is protected.

When judges from 10 precincts called early in the morning to report the brackets missing, the Board of Elections' help desk staff promised to deliver them. But first, they wanted to make sure all the polls were open and any computer problems were fixed.

Bass, who left his home in Bowie before 5 a.m. and stopped at several polling places on his way in, arrived at the board's Fayette Street headquarters at 8:30 a.m. From there, he jumped into Joseph Powers Jr.'s waiting taxicab and headed out for the city elections warehouse on Franklintown Road to pick up the brackets.

That would be the beginning of a five-hour journey that would take him across the city several times - from the inner city to Roland Park - past delis and hair salons, corner bars and carry-outs. By the end of the day, he would shake dozens of election workers' hands, travel 45 miles - and never once leave city limits.

At the South Baltimore Learning Center in Federal Hill, election judge Denise Boyd reported "smooth sailing" with the Diebold machines.

But around 4 p.m., three high-tech Diebold voting machines sat unused while two people crowded at a table with a tri-folded sheet of cardboard that read, "Provisional Voting Booth."

Election judge Vanessa Robinson said most people filling out paper provisional ballots had shown up at the wrong polling center or had recently moved but hadn't updated their registration address. More than 330 voters checked in before the first technical glitch, she said.

Voters at one Harford County precinct were thwarted by a different type of Election Day obstacle: a road construction project on Route 152 that impeded access to the polling place at Fallston Middle School.

Early in the day, traffic approaching the school backed up as motorists were delayed by flagmen and detours. Many voters persevered and reached the site but expressed frustration about the delay, said Kim Atkins, interim director of the county's election board.

Seeking suggestions on how to improve traffic flow, Atkins placed a call to officials at the county's public works department. Within 30 minutes, the roadwork stopped for the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, at Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County, construction workers had knocked down the exterior wall to the cafeteria on Monday, leaving it partially exposed to the elements. "This should keep you warm," said custodian Brian Goodloe to election judge Patrice Jordan, as he gave her a sweat shirt and she clapped her gloved hands.

Other problems were a bit more disconcerting.

Democratic election judge Fred Ateto spent several minutes helping a woman at Quarterfield Elementary School in Anne Arundel County find John McCarthy Jr. in the E-poll book. She asked that his name be taken off the electronic voter registration list - because he died last year.

"She shouldn't have to do that. It should be done at the hospital as soon as he dies. And how many are like this?" he said, gesturing to the two small E-poll books. "Thousands."

Privacy - or the lack thereof - was an issue for some voters. Without the traditional curtains in his Annapolis polling place, Peter Gelzinis IV, 23, said he felt exposed to the eyes of strangers while casting his vote.

"I don't like poll workers lingering around. ... It's very open and there's a lack of privacy," the St. John's College graduate student said.

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