- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2002

On Aug. 14, we pointed out that most of the District's voting-age public face primaries next month without benefit of a hands-on demonstration of the city's new voting machine. We also observed that election officials failed to mail the 2002 voting guide in a timely manner. The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics criticized our comments in a 900-word letter to the editor, claiming the board conducted "107 demonstrations across the city" and blaming the late mailing on a spending freeze. We are not the only media raising concerns.

There are more than 351,000 registered D.C. voters, but the board "admits there is no record of exactly how many people have watched a demonstration" of the new voting machine, the Washington Afro-America reported in this week's edition. As an example of the board's shortcomings, the Afro-American quoted Ward 8 Democratic Chairman Phil Pannell: "We conducted two demonstrations and had about 300 people. We have 36,000 registered voters in Ward 8." It also raised important concerns about the new voting machine, Optech Eagle. A report by the State of Maryland following the 2000 elections "indicated that optical scanners posed the most difficulty or impediments to use by those who are visually impaired," the newspaper said. "The system is prone to errors in counting absentee ballots."

Here we are, less than two weeks away from hotly contested mayoral and D.C. Council races, and the board has considerable voter-education work to do. The board wants D.C. voters and taxpayers to believe, on one hand, that it had the foresight to budget and adequately move the bureaucracy to ensure the new machines were in-house more than 18 months prior to the next scheduled elections and that its own hired hands had not only sufficient training but more than enough time to schedule the 107 demonstrations. But, on the other hand, it wants the public to believe that budget constraints prohibited the board from using third-class franking to educate the public about a critical new service. We don't buy that argument and the District's voting and taxpaying public shouldn't either.

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