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Glitches Cause Voting Problems in Maryland

Tuesday - 9/12/2006, 7:52pm  ET

(WTOP Photo/Mark Segraves)
D.C. Mayor Tony Williams didn't have any trouble casting his ballot. (WTOP Photo/Mark Segraves)
By STEPHEN MANNING
Associated Press Writer

CHEVY CHASE, Md. - Voters in Maryland who showed up to vote Tuesday at some polling places in the state's largest county and Baltimore found precincts that weren't ready for them, prompting judges to extend voting hours in both Montgomery County and Baltimore.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Eric Johnson granted the county elections board's petition for an order to keep the polls open an extra hour, until 9 p.m., because of the "emergency circumstances."

Baltimore Circuit Judge Marcella Holland also ordered the city elections board to keep its polling places open an extra hour, said city elections board chief Gene Raynor. Her order was the result of a last-minute lawsuit filed by the Maryland Democratic Party.

In Montgomery County, the problems began Tuesday morning when voters arrived at polling places to find the electronic voting machines could not be used because election officials had not delivered the cards voters needed to operate them.

Voters were told to come back later or were given provisional ballots or photocopies of provisional ballots to fill out. At some precincts, the cards arrived quickly and the process was moving normally within an hour of polls opening. At other locations, it took three hours for the cards to arrive. Some voters left without casting ballots.

"I just couldn't vote," said Ellen Coppley, who lives in Chevy Chase but works in Washington, D.C., and had a meeting Tuesday night that she couldn't miss. "You can't declare an election when some of your people weren't allowed to vote."

In Baltimore, some election judges did not show up on time, some failed to appear at all, and others had trouble getting into the facilities, said Bill Varga, an attorney for the city's Board of Elections. A number of polling places opened as much as an hour late.

Other problems included judges unfamiliar with the new voting system and problems with new computerized voter rolls, Varga said. There was also a lack of Republican judges - eight out of every nine registered voters in the city are Democrats. Varga said he did not have an estimate of how many of the city's 220 polling places opened late.

Polls in the rest of Maryland were expected to close at the normal time of 8 p.m.

After learning of the problems in Montgomery and Baltimore, a host of candidates called for extending the voting hours.

The additional voting in Montgomery County was to be done only by paper balloting, not electronic voting machines, according to board spokeswoman Margie Rohrer. That decision was not welcomed by all candidates, as state elections officials said provisional ballots would not be tabulated until Monday.

Unofficial results were to be announced Tuesday night in Montgomery using only votes cast on the machines, Rohrer said. The provisional and absentee results were to be added later, and Rohrer said the county would not know until at least Wednesday how many provisional ballots were cast.

Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Democratic attorney general candidate Douglas Gansler, said the results could be skewed if provisional votes aren't counted until later, given the possibility that a large number of people were forced by the glitches to use the ballots.

"To treat them as if they were provisional, as if they may or may not count, continues the disenfranchisement of Montgomery County voters," he said.

Morrill said Gansler's legal advisers were reviewing the decision.

The county board realized shortly before the polls opened that the cards, similar to ATM cards that voters insert into the machine to access the ballot, had not been delivered to precincts. County elections director Margaret Jurgensen said the problem was caused by staff error, since the materials for the precincts that should have included the cards were packed in advance.

Provisional ballots are commonly used for voters who may have been left off precinct lists or do not have proper identification. But without functioning electronic voting machines, the polls had to use the provisional ballots for all voters. That meant voters had to fill out an application before they could vote, slowing down the process.

William Pierce of Silver Spring said officials at his polling place offered Democrats photocopied ballots. But since the single-page official ballot is longer than the standard sized piece of paper, the copied versions ran on several pages, making it difficult to tell which candidates were running for which office.

"It was just really very confusing," said Pierce, a Republican whose wife voted on a photocopied Democratic ballot.

Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich asked voters to call a special toll-free number to report problems.

(Copyright 2006 by WTOP Radio and The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)