- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

Maryland elections officials yesterday began counting provisional ballots from last Tuesday’s primary elections, as elected and appointed officials tried to assess blame for the failures at polling places.

“Much of this whole situation has become very political,” said Nancy H. Dacek, president of the elections board for Montgomery County, where thousands of voters were forced to use provisional ballots or were turned away from the polls.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election, has summoned state Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone to appear before him at tomorrow’s Board of Public Works meeting.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the purpose of the meeting is “to account for all the reassurances she gave in public last year.”

“[Mrs. Lamone] said, ‘We will be ready,’” Mr. Fawell said. “Authority for training, management and oversight of state elections rests with the state administrator, Ms. Lamone.”

Mrs. Lamone has directed elections officials in Baltimore and Montgomery, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties to fix many of the problems experienced last week.

But in her letters to local officials, Mrs. Lamone has indicated that the governor, who appoints the county boards of elections, is responsible.

“Under Maryland law, local elections are administered by autonomous boards, appointed by the governor,” according to a press release issued by Mrs. Lamone’s deputy, Ross Goldstein.

Details of the problems, which prevented some voters from casting ballots, became clearer yesterday.

Montgomery County elections officials neglected to properly distribute data cards for electronic voting machines to each of the county’s 238 polling places. The officials had to deliver the cards during morning rush hour while poll judges distributed provisional ballots.

In Baltimore, problems were documented at 56 of 290 polling places, according to a list released by Mrs. Lamone’s office.

For example, at Margaret Brent Elementary School in East Baltimore, the polls were closed at 10 a.m. — three hours after the precincts were required by law to be open — and as many as 100 people had been “turned away.”

Another polling place — Matthew Henson Elementary in West Baltimore — did not open until noon.

At the Greater Model Community Center in West Baltimore, no one was available to open the building for the poll workers.

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.

“We need to put together a good emergency management system so that when something catastrophic like this comes up, everybody knows what to do,” said Mrs. Dacek, a Republican and former member of the Montgomery County Council.

Mrs. Lamone instructed poll judges in each county to attend “refresher” training on the machines and told Baltimore officials to begin a massive recruitment effort for more poll workers before the Nov. 7 general election.

Armstead B.C. Jones, president of Baltimore’s elections board, said Mrs. Lamone “has to take her part” of the blame in last week’s errors. Baltimore officials had trained 75 percent of their poll workers before the state sent the e-poll books to the city, he said.

Mr. Ehrlich and Mrs. Lamone have clashed repeatedly in the past four years, and the governor has made no secret of his wish that she be replaced.

The state board sought to do that in 2004, but the General Assembly, led by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, passed laws fortifying her position.

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