- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A shortage of absentee ballots at county election boards is approaching crisis proportions, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said in a letter to the head of the Maryland State Board of Elections.

In the letter yesterday to elections board Administrator Linda H. Lamone, Mr. Ehrlich said his office had received numerous telephone calls and e-mails from voters who have not received absentee ballots two or three weeks after filing their applications.

Diebold Election Systems Inc., the company that manufactures Maryland’s electronic voting machines, is printing 1.6 million paper ballots for next month’s general election amid worries by some that the machines could suffer the same problems as in September’s primary.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election, said the administrator “is disenfranchising voters due to Diebold’s failure to deliver in a timely manner the absentee ballots to the local boards of elections.”

The state has ordered the paper ballots, about one for every two registered voters, for use on Nov. 7.

A Diebold spokesman earlier this month said that the company had not expected such a large order and delivery for some would be delayed a week.

In her response to Mr. Ehrlich’s letter, Mrs. Lamone said that 19 of 24 jurisdictions have received the ballots they ordered.

Three of the remaining five — Anne Arundel County, Howard County and the city of Baltimore — will receive the balance of their orders by the end of this week, and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will receive the rest of their ballots next week, Mrs. Lamone said.

“While there have been a very small number of reports of counties running out of a particular ballot style, in those instances, printing has been immediately prioritized to replenish those stocks,” Mrs. Lamone said in her response.

“These unusual occurrences are due to the unprecedented demand for absentee ballots, the short time frame between the primary and general election, and the fact that an unanticipated order of this magnitude created a strain on the production and delivery process,” she said.

Mr. Ehrlich said last weekend that voters who use absentee ballots should follow the instructions carefully because their ballots could be crucial in deciding a close election that may be subject to legal challenges.

Mr. Ehrlich, who is being challenged by Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, predicted “a lot of challenges” and “a lot of lawyers” after the election.

The governor has encouraged voters to use absentee ballots because of questions about the reliability of Maryland’s electronic voting machines, which do not produce a paper trail.

The state already has passed the 65,000 absentee ballots requested during the 2002 gubernatorial election, the board of elections has said.

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