Maryland Judge Orders Some Polls to Stay Open Late After Glitches

A Montgomery County judge ordered that primary polls in the county remain open until 9 p.m. Tuesday, after human errors with electronic voting machines caused widespread problems, forcing some people to leave the polls without voting.

Ruling on a request from the county's Board of Elections, Circuit Judge Eric Johnson said the polls should remain open for an extra hour because of "emergency circumstances." But the additional voting will be done only by paper balloting, not electronic voting machines, said board spokeswoman Margie Rohrer.

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

Election officials in the state's largest and voter-rich jurisdiction failed to deliver computer cards to the county's precincts that would start the electronic voting machines. That meant voters had to use paper provisional ballots while the county scrambled to deliver the electronic cards after polls opened at 7 a.m.

Fearing that voters would not have enough time to vote because of the glitch, a host of candidates called for extending the voting hours.

Yet Johnson's decision to use paper ballots was not welcomed by all candidates. Provisional ballots are usually counted after Election Day. This year, they will be tabulated on Monday, according to state elections officials.

Unofficial results will still be announced Tuesday night from votes cast only on the voting machines, Rohrer said. Provisional and absentee results will be added later. Roher said the county would not know until at least Wednesday how many provisional ballots were cast.

Mike Morrill, a spokesman for 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. 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.

"We do apologize for this rough mistake that caused a rough beginning," she said.

Baltimore city also got off to a rough start.

A number of polling places opened as much as an hour late because some judges did not show up on time and others had trouble getting into the facilities, said Bill Varga, legal counsel for the Baltimore City Board of Elections.

The problems include judges unfamiliar with the new voting system, judges arriving late or not at all, a lack of Republican judges, problems with new computerized voter rolls. Varga said he did not have an estimate of how many of the city's 220 polling places opened late.

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

Leading up to the primary vote, state officials debated the reliability of the new electronic voting machines, the cost of adding a paper trail to the electronic tally, and whether early voting was legal.

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.

For some who had only limited time to vote, those delays forced them to leave without casting a ballot.

"I just couldn't vote," said Ellen Coppley, who lives in Chevy Chase but works in the District and has a board meeting Monday night. "You can't declare an election when some of your people weren't allowed to vote."

William Pierce of Silver Spring said officials at his polling place were offering 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.

Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator of the Maryland Board of Elections, said if the photocopying was done by elections officials and was given to the voter to cast, then it is a legal ballot.

While precinct officials said many voters were understanding of the problems, others at polling places weren't so charitable.

"I think somebody's really incompetent," said Joyce Schwartz, Democratic precinct co-chair at the Chevy Chase Village hall. "Somebody's head is going to roll for this."