- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

A week after the primary elections, the outcomes of some of Maryland’s closely watched races still are unknown.

This intolerable uncertainty is a sin and a shame. And playing the blame game only makes matters worse.

Yesterday, elections officials — from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and in Baltimore — began tallying provisional ballots, which voters cast when newfangled electronic voting machines were missing a key component — the access cards in Montgomery County — or didn’t work.

Friday, the count began for absentee ballots.

No need to recap the disastrous mistakes that made Maryland’s primary resemble some madcap scene straight out of a Marx Brothers movie. But making a mockery of the most precious democratic exercise — the right to vote — is no laughing matter.

Too bad the people responsible for ensuring that right did not take their jobs more seriously.

It is unconscionable that some poll workers, some called election judges, were unable to get their voting apparatus up and running until three hours after the polling places were supposed to open.

The loss of voters who were prevented from casting ballots is irrevocable. No re-vote can recapture those thousands so frustrated that they walked away.

Close contenders are well within their rights to challenge the results, not only for themselves, but also for their supporters.

“There is uncertainty throughout this county,” said Chuck Perry, a D.C. lawyer providing counsel to the campaign of Rushern L. Baker III, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for Prince George’s County executive. “There’s ample evidence of irregularities throughout the county that may have affected the outcome” of the elections.

You’ve got to admire the hard-charging Donna Edwards, a Democratic candidate for 4th Congressional District who trails incumbent U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn. She has refused to concede until the last paper ballot is counted.

Edwards campaign officials said they will file an injunction asking a court to take possession of voting machines in Prince George’s County’s Chillum area that were delivered to the election board Wednesday at about 5 p.m.

An attorney for Mrs. Edwards said that the machines still had memory cards inside of them and that nobody could account for their whereabouts between Tuesday night and Wednesday evening. The votes from those machines increased Mr. Wynn’s margin of victory substantially, her attorney said.

In Montgomery County, officials have called for the firing of Margaret A. Jurgensen, director of the county’s board of elections since 2001, and the removal of Nancy H. Dacek, president of the board.

Paul Valette, elections operations manager for Montgomery County’s Board of Elections, has said it was his department’s fault that voters could not use the machines.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election, appointed the various elections boards and has blamed Democrats for their failures.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, has blamed the governor.

Plenty of blame can be passed around.

If Mrs. Jurgensen is not right about anything else that she offers in defense of her $113,000 salary, she was on target when she said the error “was a team effort.”

Maryland has some of the wealthiest and most highly educated households in the nation, yet it seemed like a Third World country last week when “glitches” were reported at all 238 precincts in Montgomery County alone.

Some laid blame on the electronic voting machines. Although these suspect mechanisms are not without their problems, it’s not as if they haven’t been used before in Montgomery and elsewhere.

Does there need to be a backup system provided by a paper trail? Absolutely.

But you have to start to make sure the electronic system works by providing the basic tools, such as the ATM-like access cards. Duh.

Have we really become that dumb and dumber? This raises the issues of proper training and preparation.

It’s sad enough that far too many citizens are so apathetic or angry that they don’t vote in the first place.

Look to the nation’s capital, for example, where less than 35 percent of all eligible voters cast ballots for their next mayor. That is a pitiful showing of community spirit and civic responsibility.

So, it adds more insult to injury when the acts of the elections officials, such as those in Maryland, further erode what little faith remains in the political process by turning off the voters who did take the time to go to the polls.

There’s got to be a better way.

Baker campaign officials obviously are among those calling for an independent investigation of problems that include failures in transmitting results electronically from precincts to the board, the misidentification of voters’ party affiliations and polling places opening late.

“We have another election in less than two months, at this point,” Baker spokesman Alexander Krughoff said. “This process has to be fixed by then.”

Nov. 7 will arrive in a blink of an eye.

Will Marylanders be ready, or will they be blindsided by baffled, bumbling elections officials yet again?



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