- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

Every vote counts. Now comes the painstaking task of counting every vote.

Tucked away in the Montgomery County elections board’s headquarters in Rockville, workers and volunteers yesterday began the arduous task of tallying thousands of absentee ballots from the general election.

More than two dozen contract and temporary workers analyzed roughly 30,000 ballots, said Marjorie M. Roher, the board’s administrative specialist.

“Our goal in Montgomery County is to make sure that everyone who wants to vote has that opportunity,” she said.

Working in two-person teams, the 26 workers examined each ballot for signatures, stray marks and postmark dates. When their inspections were complete, “runners” hustled the ballots to a table of board members for final approval.

Once the board said OK, the ballots were run through a machine, a process that will continue today and likely tomorrow, Miss Roher said.

Ballots received by Nov. 17 and postmarked no later than Nov. 6 will also be counted, she said.

A record number of voters in Maryland and across the country Tuesday took advantage of new laws allowingearly- or absentee-ballot voting without the excuse of being ill or out of town.

More than 190,000 Marylanders requested the ballots, in part, because of problems at the polls during the September primaries.

In Montgomery County, thousands of voters were turned away or forced to use provisional paper ballots because cards used to operate electronic voting machines were not delivered to polling stations.

Poll workers in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties had difficulty operating “e-poll books,” the computerized voter-registration lists that are supposed to link each county to the state’s voter rolls. And judges either didn’t show up or arrived late in Prince George’s County and in Baltimore, causing polls to open late.

Those problems prompted some elected officials — including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who lost his bid for re-election — to encourage voters to use the absentee ballots.

The number of requests for the ballots created problems in some jurisdictions.

Baltimore County ran out of three kinds of ballots, and Prince George’s County never received three styles. Larger counties have dozens of different ballots because of local races.

Voting in Maryland polls went more smoothly Tuesday, aside from minor glitches and malfunctions, mostly in Baltimore and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

The absentee ballots were not included in vote totals, so final results for close contests will not be available for several more days.

A winner has been declared in almost every contest so the ballots are not expected to have the big impact that was expected. However, they could decide two General Assembly races.

In the state race for a seat from Anne Arundel County, Democrat Walter J. Shandrowsky leads Republican Bryan W. Simonaire by less than 200 votes, according to the county’s elections board Web site. They are vying for the seat of Democratic Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, who is retiring after more than two decades in office.

In the House race for a final seat from Baltimore County, Tracy Miller, a Democrat, had 16,559 votes to 16,522 for William J. Frank, a Republican.

The race for the vacated county executive position also is undecided. As of yesterday afternoon, Republican Delegate John R. Leopold was ahead of Democrat George Johnson by fewer than 400 votes.

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