- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

Florida isn't the only state where officials are asking "What went wrong?" after problems on Election Day.
Maryland elections officials began work yesterday to correct administrative foul-ups that stopped scores of voters from casting ballots in Tuesday's election.
Most voters turned away at the polls were victims of the way Maryland officials chose to implement the federal "motor-voter" law requiring states to let people register to vote when they obtain or renew a driver's license or photo ID.
Although "motor voter" was touted as a way to encourage people to vote, procedures Maryland adopted to carry out address-change requirements of the law misled many would-be voters who were denied ballots Tuesday when they discovered their registration had been dropped and not transferred.
Under national motor-voter law, a change of address submitted to a state motor vehicle agency is also supposed to serve as an address change for voter registration "unless a registrant declares otherwise," said Tom Surock, motor-voter coordinator for the Motor Vehicles Administration.
Although it would seem logical for MVA staff to either transfer voters' registrations or offer new voter-registration applications on the spot, they did not.
Many voters didn't find out their registration had not been updated until they arrived at the neighborhood poll site, only to be told they could not vote there.
The change-of-address form also inexplicably required voters moving to another county or Baltimore to check a box indicating whether they wanted a new registration form mailed to them a step that could have been handled on the spot by MVA staff.
The questions added an apparently unneeded layer to the registration process that the motor-voter law was supposed to make easier. And they were placed on the change-of-address form on the advice of the office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and with the approval of both MVA officials and members of the state elections board, which includes Democrats and Republicans.
"Can it be improved sure and we're looking at doing it now," Mr. Surock said.
State Board of Elections Administrator Linda Lamone said she tried to change the process to facilitate one-stop transfer between jurisdictions when the problem surfaced after the primary elections.
But Ms. Lamone said she encountered stiff resistance from local elections administrators in Maryland's 24 jurisdictions.
On Election Day, some voters were caught by surprise.
John Baddour of Prince George's County discovered his and his wife's registration had not been transferred, and he and she drove almost a hour each to their old precincts in Calvert and Howard counties, where they were prohibited from voting because they had been removed from the polls based on their address.
"It might have made a difference in some local elections the whole process kind of stunk, Mr. Baddour said yesterday.
Ms. Lamone said she had no estimate of how many voters were turned away or gave up in frustration.
Motor-voter coordinator Tom Surock of MVA said the procedure caused few complaints in previous elections, probably because of lower turnout.
In any case, Maryland officials said the problem should go away when a statewide voter-registration system becomes available and accessible to all jurisdictions.
While Maryland struggled with its lists of registered voters, Election Day in Virginia was comparatively trouble-free.
Election officials in Northern Virginia, by and large, said the state's efforts to update eligible voter lists paid off with a quiet day at the polling sites last week.
Virginia has focused, since January 1999, on pruning ineligible voters from its lists by removing thousands of names of deceased citizens and persons convicted of felonies from the rolls.
Under the "Prohibitive Voter Match Program," the state has taken the names of about 17,000 felons' names off the voting rolls and more than 51,000 dead people from voting lists since Jan. 1, 1999.
Felons in Virginia lose their right to vote forever unless it's restored by the governor, who retains the final say in all cases.
Carol Ann Coryell, a Republican and secretary of Fairfax County's electoral board, said the state's efforts reduced the number of headaches this past election.
"That was so good. It was so up to date for us," Mrs. Coryell said.
Under the voter match program, each registrar is responsible for checking the board's computerized central file to determine whether a registered voter should be removed.
In 1998, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the investigative arm of the General Assembly, found that the election board's record keeping was so poor that 11,221 felons and 1,480 dead persons were registered to vote.
The watchdog agency said that 1,739 felons cast ballots in 1997's statewide and House of Delegates elections, as did 144 persons listed by the Health Department as dead.
Nonviolent felons can regain the right to vote by petitioning a circuit court five years after they are released from prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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