- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

BALTIMORE — Mayor Martin O’Malley yesterday accused Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of intentionally trying to scare voters away from the polls by talking too much about problems that occurred during the primary and about concerns with electronic voting machines.

“I think there’s a purposeful effort, and we’ll probably see more of it,” said Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat trying to unseat Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election. “I think he wants to see as low turnout as possible.”

Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in Maryland, which could benefit Mr. O’Malley if many voters turn out for the Nov. 7 election.

Despite Mr. O’Malley’s criticism of Mr. Ehrlich, he said the governor’s concerns over the reliability of elections in Maryland are “legitimate.”

An Ehrlich spokesman said Mr. O’Malley was contradicting himself and called his statements evidence of “breathtaking hypocrisy.”

“Why is [Mr. O’Malley] sending out [electronic] calls encouraging voters to vote by absentee ballot?” asked Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell. “His position changes on the time of day.”

Mr. Ehrlich has encouraged voters to cast their ballots by absentee ballot after problems with election judges and electronic voting machines in the Sept. 12 primary resulted in some voters being turned away from polling places in Baltimore and in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat who was Mr. O’Malley’s primary opponent until dropping out in June, joined Mr. Ehrlich this week in telling residents to vote absentee.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat who came to Maryland to campaign for Mr. O’Malley, also agreed with Mr. Ehrlich about the problems with the voting machines.

“They have too big of an error rate,” he said of the machines made by Diebold Inc.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the company is rushing to print 1.6 million paper absentee and backup provisional ballots for Maryland voters. The state has 3.1 million registered voters.

Mr. O’Malley’s campaign, like Mr. Ehrlich’s, makes electronic phone calls to voters encouraging them to vote by absentee ballot.

But yesterday, at a press conference at North Point State Park, Mr. O’Malley was noncommittal about whether he thought it was better to vote by the absentee method.

“People have a right to vote by absentee ballot, or by going to the polls,” he said. “The important thing is to vote and not to be scared away by the incompetence we saw in the primary. … Many of the problems we saw at the polls have been addressed.”

In Montgomery County, election judges forgot to bring computer cards that count the votes from the local headquarters. In Baltimore, some election judges failed to show up at polls or arrived late.

However, there also were problems throughout the state with the new e-poll books, which are supposed to take the place of paper voter rolls.

Some froze, then restarted, which caused delays and confusion about whether some votes had been recorded.

Also, some of the e-poll books failed to communicate with each another, which could have allowed residents to vote more than once.

State Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone has said the problems have been fixed and has also promised to use paper voter rolls as a backup at each polling place.

“I pray [the e-poll books] work, and I have no evidence to believe they will,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

Mr. Ehrlich has also said he lacks confidence in the state’s electronic voting machines, which leave no paper trail.

This year in the legislature, the House voted 137-0 to create a paper trail, using different machines that create a receipt for each voter.

Mr. Ehrlich supports a paper trail, as do many national Democrats, but the bill died in the Senate after Democratic senators stalled and eventually blocked the bill from passing.

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