Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Election Disaster in Montgomery

The Montgomery County Board of Elections failed to deliver the cards needed to activate the County's electronic voting machines. As a result, the polls were not able to open on time throughout the County. Some voters were able to cast provisional paper ballots. However, polling places had a limited supply. I was handing out campaign literature at Rollingwood School and they ran out eventually. In any case, few voters showed up for the traditional pre-work rush to the polls at this normally very busy precinct because of news reports of the problem.

It took some time time to get the electronic machines up and running as the cards had to be delivered by hand to each of the County's 238 precincts. The polls are supposed to open at 7AM. Rollingwood didn't get its electronic machines up and running until around 8:20AM. Chevy Chase Elementary didn't get their machines up until at least 15 minutes later.

The problems didn't stop there. The County has now moved to an electronic system for checking in voters when they arrive at the polls. After the election judge checks in the voter, the machine prints out a receipt which the voter must sign and encodes the electronic card which allows the voter then inserts in the voting machine to activate it. Just as the election judge checked me in, the machine crashed. When it restarted, it said that I had already voted even though I had not. Fortunately, it had encoded the card to allow me to vote and I was able to cast a ballot even though it did not print out a receipt. We had to take care of that part manually.

Meanwhile, some voters clearly still find the electronic machines confusing. Two older voters at the booth next to mine accidentally cast their ballot before they had finished voting for all of the offices. I don't know if this is a common problem but I can see how people might accidentally flip past some screens and then hit cast a ballot. The touch pad locates the "next screen" and "cast your ballot" buttons in the same part of the screen. It seems possible to flip past a "page" of the ballot and even to cast your ballot by accident.

If fewer people vote in Montgomery, it could have a big impact on the election. Ben Cardin expects to do well here so fewer voters in Montgomery would likely aid Kweisi Mfume. Doug Gansler, the County's State's Attorney, is running for Attorney General and similarly would like a high turnout in Montgomery in his race against Stuart Simms, a former State's Attorney from Baltimore City.

Within Montgomery, individual local and state legislative candidates could benefit if some polling places got their machines up and running earlier than others as well. There is talk of extending voting around the state. However, many voters who showed up at the polls in the morning may not be able to return or be sufficiently motivated.

Expect the count to be delayed tonight. There will be a unusually large number of provisional ballots to count and the closing time for the polls may be delayed.