Maryland Election Glitches Prompt Investigation

Montgomery County elections officials said Wednesday they planned to investigate mistakes that hampered voting in Tuesday's primaries and contributed to delays in the reporting of results that left some races in limbo.

The county election board was to begin a review Thursday of why cards needed to activate electronic voting machines were not delivered in time to county precincts, in some cases rendering the machines useless for several hours.

But despite the widespread problems, Montgomery County Board of Elections President Nancy Dacek, a Republican appointed by Gov. Robert Ehrlich, rebuffed implications by state Democrats that the mishaps were the result of blundering by the GOP. Dacek also said she would not resign.

"I think we are all trying to take responsibility for this and trying to make sure it doesn't happen again," she said.

State elections administrator Linda Lamone, meanwhile, planned to consult with the Maryland attorney general's office to determine what "corrective actions" are needed to prevent a repeat of problems in the November general election. She would not elaborate on what those actions may be.

The glitch caused widespread confusion at precincts in voter rich Montgomery. Election judges reverted to paper provisional ballots, but ran out in some cases. Voters who came early to some polling places were turned away, told to come back later.

As a result, a Montgomery County judge ordered the polls to remain open for an extra hour until 9 p.m. A similar order was issued in Baltimore City, where problems with absent election judges delayed voting in some precincts.

Results also were delayed in Montgomery and other jurisdictions. By early afternoon, Prince George's County was still tabulating results, leaving tight races for county executive and the Fourth District congressional seat unresolved.

In Baltimore, the elections board was still counting votes from stray precincts in the early afternoon. Armstead B.C. Jones, president of the board, referred to it as "clean up time."

But the delay left some candidates still unsure of the results. Dan Farrington, a Chevy Chase Democrat running for the House of Delegates 18th District, said provisional ballots would help him know if he had a chance to make up the 400 votes he needed for the third slot in the general election race. Provisional ballots are expected to be counted Monday.

"It's not over," Farrington said Wednesday afternoon.

Montgomery elections board spokeswoman Margie Roher said the lag in reporting — all precincts weren't fully counted until 5 a.m. — was the result of polls remaining open an extra hour and more stringent security measures for electronically transmitting results from polling places to elections headquarters.

Prince George's officials did not return calls seeking comment.

The more stringent security added more electronic encryption that added several minutes to the transmission of poll results that used to take only seconds, Roher said. Judges at about a third of the precincts drove their results to the elections board because of anticipated delays in filing by modem.

Lamone, a staunch defender of the state's electronic voting machines that some critics say are unreliable and vulnerable to tampering, said the extra measures were needed.

"Everybody wants security. You've got to pay the price when you want security features," she said.