- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

The machine age is coming to D.C. elections and poll workers are training and looking forward to more efficiency, even if there is a record number of write-in votes for the mayoral election.
But, election workers may have to revert to old-fashioned count-by-hand if, indeed, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the Rev. Willie Wilson are the leading Democratic candidates.
Either must win by write-ins and the winner may not be known officially until a week or more after the election.
"It may take a week to 10 days," said Bill O'Field, spokesman for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
For the first time, a computerized Optech Eagle at each precinct will count the votes for each candidate whose name is printed on the ballot. It will count only the total write-in votes, not by individual candidate.
Soon after polls close at 8 p.m. Sept. 10, an unofficial count may be announced for each printed candidate, but only the total of all write-in votes may be reported. The write-in votes for individual candidates will be hand-counted by staff at the Board of Elections and Ethics.
Nevertheless, veteran poll workers, who are undergoing training, anticipate easier duties in the upcoming election.
"This time, I anticipate it will go smoother," said Regina Davis, 43, who has worked three previous elections in Ward 8 in Southeast Washington.
"We're not Floridians," said Mrs. Davis, referring to the 2000 presidential election in Florida when ballot confusion prolonged the official count.
About 1,300 experienced and neophyte poll workers are in training for the primary. Election officials hope about 200 more qualified volunteers come forward.
Poll workers this time must know and explain to voters how the optical scanner works, and that could be difficult, said Benjamin Crichlow, 47, a volunteer worker the last two elections in a Northeast precinct.
Also, "some voters are afraid to ask for help," Mr. Crichlow said.
The optical scanner will examine the ballots for mistakes and will reject any ballot that has been marked wrong, like for two candidates in one race.
Voters will mark a ballot simply by making a connecting line between the tail and arrowhead pointing to a candidate's name.
"I will be there until the job is done," said Maitzie Pinckney, who has enjoyed working in Northeast Ward 7, although she was at the poll from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on the last election.
"What is more fundamental to democracy than the voting process?" said Clara Dawson, 77, who has worked the last 12 elections in the Northwest Ward 7.
"I get great fun out of it," said her neighbor and friend, Ruby Johnson, 80, a poll worker for 22 years, who does not foresee any difficulty in handling more write-in votes.
About 75 workers are attending each of the two-hour training sessions at board headquarters on Judiciary Square conducted by Shirley Jackson, program specialist for poll workers' training.
"Ms. Jackson made it seem so easy," said veteran poll worker Mrs. Davis. Like others, she will report on Sept. 9 to the precinct where she is assigned to prepare the poll, then spend all of the next day there.
Write-in voters are encouraged to use the full names of candidates. However, if only the last name is written in, and it is clearly for a specific candidate, it will be official, Mr. O'Field said.
Mr. Williams has suggested he may distribute stamp pads to assist write-in voters. Mr. O'Field said that is OK, but adhesive stamps on ballots will be rejected.

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