- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Delays in the reporting of Tuesday’s primary results in the hotly contested D.C. Council races have fueled concerns about whether city election officials are prepared for higher turnout in the November general election.

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics experienced delays of up to four hours after polls closed at 8 p.m., causing some votes in a number of citywide primaries not to be known until after midnight.

“There was a technological problem, and I’m still trying to find out what happened,” council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said yesterday. “It’s incredibly frustrating.”

Tuesday’s problems come nine months after similar delays took place during the city’s presidential primary in January, which was the first time that city election officials used new touch-screen voting technology.

D.C. voters can cast their ballots on two different kinds of machines: touch-screen computers or optical scanners that read paper ballots.

Election officials yesterday blamed the latest delays on the process of collecting the votes cast on the touch-screen machines and returning them to election headquarters.

Poll workers drive to each precinct and pick up a cartridge from each touch-screen computer to take back to headquarters, said Bill O’Field, a spokesman for the elections board.

Mr. O’Field said traffic between precincts and election headquarters sometimes can cause delays in reporting results.

“The [elections] board wants to be accurate in its reporting and appreciates that the media have deadlines and that others have deadlines, but the board also recognizes that accuracy in reporting is critical to the process,” Mr. O’Field said.

Community activist Terrance Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, yesterday asked Wilma Lewis, who recently was appointed chairman of the Board of Elections and Ethics, for an investigation.

In a letter to Ms. Lewis, Mr. Lynch said, “Election 2004 was marred by delayed, incomplete and unclear public reporting of the votes cast.”

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday expressed confidence that Ms. Lewis will fix the problems in time for the Nov. 2 general election.

“I believe that to the extent that these issues have lingered, she’s going to get her arms around them,” he said at his weekly press briefing.

Alfie Charles, a spokesman for Sequoia Voting Systems which supplies the city’s touch-screen machines, said the popularity of the electronic systems means more votes will have to be taken to election headquarters.

“It sounds like the electronic systems were popular so there were a lot of votes counted on the electronic systems,” he said. “Those cartridges have to be physically carried into [headquarters]. That complicates things.”

Mr. Charles said election officials in other cities use regional drop-off points to speed up the collection and tabulation of votes.

Mr. O’Field said the Board of Elections and Ethics might consider implementing changes to speed up the returns.

“We’ve been trying to look at other ways of reporting,” Mr. O’Field said. “But we also want to be accurate, and we don’t want to release anything until it’s reviewed.”

Questions about the board’s handling of technology in the District have surfaced in the past.

In 2002, the D.C. Office of Inspector General expressed concern about the qualifications of the election board’s chief technology officer Vialetta Graham.

She reported having a computer-science degree from American University in 1983, but city investigators later learned that she only completed one year of undergraduate work, according to the inspector general.

The elections board suspended her for two months, but decided to keep her in her $92,271-a-year job.

“You placed the important technology functions … in the hands of an employee with the educational background of one year of undergraduate work,” former D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox wrote in a Aug. 5, 2002, memo to Board of Elections and Ethics managers.

After delays during the January presidential primary, former Board of Elections and Ethics Chairman Benjamin F. Wilson said Ms. Graham was not to blame for the problems.

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