- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Officials in Montgomery and Prince George's counties said yesterday that election judges and new, computerized ballot machines are ready for the hundreds of thousands of voters expected for the Nov. 5 election, despite problems in the September primaries that delayed results for hours and, in one case, days.
Prince George's County has fixed a computer-modem problem that caused nine precincts to report two days late, said Robin Downs, the county's election administrator. Results from the other 195 precincts arrived within a couple of hours after the 8 p.m. closing.
Still, Miss Downs acknowledges that election officials must accommodate more voters and improve the absentee-ballot process. She said the county has received more than 5,000 absentee-ballot requests, compared with 4,500 in 1998.
Miss Downs also said the requests increased after Gov. Parris N. Glendening considered assigning National Guard troops to polls because of the sniper attacks in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
"We got a lot of calls for absentee applications that day," she said.
Mr. Glendening canceled the plan when two sniper suspects were arrested Thursday.
Miss Downs expects the close gubernatorial race between Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democrat Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to bring a large number of voters to the polls.
Polls show the race is a dead heat.
In Montgomery County, the situation was so bad on primary night that precinct judges had to haul the 42-pound voting machines to election headquarters in Rockville so the results could be tallied.
Election officials said they have helped fix the problem by training about 5,000 election judges through Monday one day before the election.
"We face the same problems that we faced in the primary," said Margaret Jurgensen, administrator for the county's election board.
About 200 judges quit after the primary, so some county employees will take civil leave to fill the 3,600 slots needed for the election. They will be paid $100 to $130 for the day, which could last 16 hours.
County Executive Douglas Duncan has also asked area merchants to ask employees to volunteer for precinct duty.
The training includes preparing a computer card for each voter and showing voters how to use the touch-screen computer. Precinct workers must also process the cards to get vote counts, then electronically transmit the results.
What delayed the final vote count until 2 a.m. on primary night six hours after the polls closed was that precinct officials had to hand deliver the results to election headquarters in Rockville.
This time, 170 of the 237 precincts will use modems to transmit the numbers as soon as they are collected.
Officials also expected the polls to open on time.
In September, about 43 polls opened after 7 a.m. because workers did not set up voting machines, equipment, tables and other equipment.
Even if the voting process runs flawlessly, the expected high voter turnout could cause delays at polls, said a Montgomery County Council staffer. The polls open at 7 a.m.
To prepare in Prince George's County, voting machines will arrive six days before the election, Miss Downs said. Still, officials have to find and train roughly 500 more workers and judges. About 2,800 will be on duty Nov. 5.
Voters have until today to apply for an absentee ballot, which will be counted Nov. 7.
Absentee ballots from overseas will be counted Nov. 15, and official totals will be reported Nov. 16.
Prince George's was prepared for the primary elections because voters had already used the new machines in a special County Council election.
The machines have also been used in several high schools for student elections.
Maryland began the transition to touch screens after the 2000 presidential election that was delayed by voting problems, especially in Florida.
It cost about $15 million to put touch screens in Allegany, Dorchester, Montgomery and Prince George's counties for the September primary, and the state's 23 counties are all expected to have them by 2006.
Congress recently authorized $3.9 billion to be distributed to states to buy new machines and fix existing voting systems in the next three years.

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