- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2000

When the votes were tallied in Seat Pleasant's mayoral race a month ago, one vote was the difference. Brenda Brown Smith says that vote was hers, and it was never counted.

And as the motions, news conferences and appeals continue in Florida to determine the validity of ballots cast in the presidential election, the Maryland town of about 5,500, just east of the District of Columbia in Prince George's County, is embroiled in an election drama of its own.

The only thing missing is the chads.

Ms. Smith, 55, a Department of Veterans Affairs clerk, claims that even after she showed election officials her voter registration card in the city's Sept. 11 mayoral race, she was turned away from her polling place because her name could not be found on the list of voters provided by the city.

The next day, when the votes were tallied, it turned out that her candidate, Thurman D. Jones Jr., a former Seat Pleasant City Council member, had lost the race by just one vote to two-term incumbent Mayor Eugene F. Kennedy, 247-246. Community activist Eugene F. Grant received 191 votes.

Ms. Smith, who had supported Mr. Jones since his days as a council member, arrived at the Greendale Center to cast her vote at 5 p.m. She was registered in Prince George's County but had recently moved from one area of Seat Pleasant to another.

When her name didn't appear on the voter list, Yvonne Sumner, the chairwoman of the city elections board, contacted the county election board to verify Ms. Smith's registration.

Because she called after business hours, Miss Sumner was unable to reach anyone, and Ms. Smith was denied the opportunity to vote.

When Ms. Smith ran into Mr. Jones a few days later, she mentioned the incident in passing. The losing candidate went out and hired a lawyer.

Mr. Jones' suit asks that Ms. Smith's vote be included in the count.

On Nov. 2, Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. decided in favor of Mr. Jones, citing the city's and county's "mistakes, missteps and bureaucratic blunders."

Robin Downs, acting election supervisor at the Prince George's County Board of Supervisors of Elections, confirmed that Ms. Smith was indeed a registered voter, but her name had been omitted erroneously while her change of address was being processed.

"There is evidence that the irregularities would have affected the fairness of this election," Judge Nichols wrote in his decision.

But Frederick Sussman, the attorney representing Seat Pleasant, disagrees. He said it would set a "dangerous precedent" to allow someone to vote after the election is over, even if the city did make an error.

The mayor could not be reached for comment.

If the decision stands and Ms. Smith is allowed to vote, the city's charter calls for a runoff election in the case of a tie.

But the City Council voted 4-3 Monday to pursue an appeal with Maryland's Court of Special Appeals, and Mr. Sussman said that because of the importance of the case, he has also filed to have it heard before the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

Mr. Jones' attorney, Joseph P. Chazen, argues Ms. Smith was "absolutely disenfranchised" and has moved to have Judge Nichols' decision calling for the runoff stand even as the appeal process moves forward.

While Mr. Jones claims to have no quarrel with Mr. Kennedy, he says the case is purely political. He believes the City Council is pursuing the appeal "just to keep their man in," because he believes a runoff election would work in his favor.

While a resolution could take months, Mr. Kennedy will remain in office.

City Council President Kelly Porter said he hopes the dispute is settled "as soon as possible" but insists it is not interfering with city business.

However, all parties concede their experience has caused them to cast a closer eye on the Florida recount.

When asked if he thought his story would be garnering this much notoriety without the national drama, Mr. Jones replied succinctly, "No way."

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