Election Day in Montgomery County and parts of Prince George's opened in chaos and frustration this morning, as a series of problems and missteps left thousands of citizens unable to vote or forced to cast provisional ballots.
By mid-morning, a bevy of statewide and local candidates had begun calling for polling stations to stay open past the scheduled 8 p.m. closing time. Montgomery County's Board of Elections held an emergency meeting and agreed to petition the Circuit Court to extend voting times until 9 p.m.
No electronic voting machines were operational when polls opened at 7 a.m. in Montgomery County, because election officials failed to deliver the required voter authorization cards to the county's 238 precincts. Voters were supposed to be given provisional paper ballots instead. But several precincts quickly ran out of those backup ballots.
The blogger over at Maryland Politics Watch had a frustrating experience when he showed up at the polling place.
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.
One frustrated campaign volunteer in the Washington Post article had this to say.
"This is just obscene that we can live in one of the most forward-thinking counties in the country, and have so many advantages open to us, and for some reason we can't get our polls to work," said campaign volunteer Valerie Coll, who was stationed outside Cannon Road Elementary School in Silver Spring. She said poll workers turned voters away until the campaign volunteers told them to offer paper ballots instead.
And Maryland Politics Watch adds this.
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.
Put that together with this bit from the the spokesman for the Montgomery County State's Attorney.
"Absolutely you have to be concerned. That potentially disenfranchises a great many voters," said Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler, who is competing against Baltimore attorney Stuart Simms to be the Democratic nominee for state attorney general.
And you have to wonder what's going on. After Ohio and Florida, you can't blame people for being more than a little suspicious. After all, this is one of the most progressive counties in Maryland (one reason we moved here), and P.G. County has a sizable African American population.
Now, I don't want to play conspiracy theorist, but the Board of Elections is appointed by the governor — in our case, the Republican governor — who's in a bit of political trouble according to polls, trailing the front runner for the Democratic nomination by 12.9 points. And the Senate candidate isn't faring much better against his Democratic rival, trailing by 10.9 points.
So, the County Board of Elections may say it's due to "human error," but I think it's at least possible that everything's going according to plan. I'll be headed out this afternoon to see if I can cast my ballot.