Early voting in D.C. stirs fear over ballot security

City unveils touch screens

**FILE** D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (The Washington Times)**FILE** D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (The Washington Times)
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As D.C. voters withstood 90-plus-degree temperatures on Monday to be the first in line to cast ballots in the contentious contest for D.C. mayor, some voters are concerned about the scope of election-law changes made this year and the possibility of tampering.

New touch-screen voting machines, unrestricted early balloting, same-day registration and closed primaries are a few of the challenges facing election officials as they gear up for the Sept. 14 primaries.

Until this year, early balloting was restricted to the disabled, military personnel and voters who would not be in town to cast ballots on Election Day. But on Monday, voters lined up outside the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) to vote as supporters chanted “Four more years” on behalf of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and backers of D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray shouted “Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye.”

Supporters of both Democratic candidates are concerned about polling integrity and the democratic process itself.

Early voting will be permitted at four other sites beginning this weekend, and former elections board spokesman Bill O'Field said maintaining the integrity of balloting may not be easy.

DCBOEE assures that the voting machines will have security tapes on them, as well as security locks,” said Mr. O’Field, an elections consultant. “However, I believe the DCBOEE should hire overnight security officers for each of the early-voting centers.

“I always say that when it comes to elections, and you are in doubt, use precaution,” he said.

As part of the 2009 Omnibus Election Reform Act, voters will use new iVotronic touch-screen machines, which election officials tested with mock elections. Unlike the city’s older machines, the newer model keeps three electronic copies of a voter’s ballot and leaves a paper trail.

Still, some voters have reservations.

“I think the new voting machines open up the democratic process,” said small-business owner James Brown, a Gray supporter. “Like any other technology, it’s a component of society that reflects a sign of the times.”

But, he said, the mayor’s race is so tight, elections officials must still have safeguards in place to ensure integrity during balloting and after votes have been cast.

“Oversight and checks and balances must be maintained,” Mr. Brown said.

Others question whether the elections board is trying to implement too many changes at once.

“My overarching concern about the upcoming primary is that there have been too many changes to the election process foisted on the DCBOEE at one time,” said Mr. O'Field. “When the city council was considering the Omnibus Election Reform Act of 2009, I testified before the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment that I would like to see only early voting implemented for this years elections. That alone would enfranchise voters.”

Fenty supporter Lawrence Guyot, who wore a Fannie Lou Hamer T-shirt and greeted passers-by with Fenty literature, said the old paper-ballot process works fine for him and other older voters. He, too, is concerned about disenfranchised voters.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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