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Potomac Voters Discuss Election Day

Residents cite Iraq as a central issue in Tuesday's gubernatorial election.

Despite the chaos that afflicted Montgomery County polling places on primary day, Potomac residents flocked to the polls on Tuesday to cast ballots in the gubernatorial election.

Some were driven to the polls by a desire to change the power balance in Washington.

"There is corruption in the Republican Party – many [politicians] have resigned because of the corruption charges against them,” said Tufail Ahmad of Potomac. “Since all three parts of the government are from one party, there should be some form of government in the hands of the Democrats. There are no checks and balances right now.”

Potomac resident Lora Drezner advocated energetically for Democrats in front of the Potomac Elementary polling station. She said that major changes are needed in political leadership and that she hopes her fellow voters will look beyond Republicans' promises of tax cuts.

“People here are voting for tax cuts, but we shouldn’t be voting for tax cuts when there’s a war – we’re leaving a debt for our grandchildren,” said Drezner, of Potomac. “People need to see beyond their pocketbooks to the world we’re creating.”

Sam Malhotra of Potomac said that there is strong support for Republicans in Potomac. District 15, which covers most of Potomac, has the highest percentage of registered Republicans in the county.

“I’ve noticed that Republicans in Montgomery County are in the closet,” he said as he campaigned for Ehrlich and Steele in front of Potomac Elementary on Tuesday morning. “They’ll come by and put their thumbs up but won’t stop to talk.”

VOTERS IDENTIFIED IRAQ as a major factor in their election decisions.

Ahmad is a Democrat who co-founded the Montgomery County Muslim Council.

“I think the Iraq war is the major issue – it has not been handled properly,” he said. “We want the war to end and for there to be peace, understanding and dialogue.”

Even Republicans acknowledged that the Iraq War has dominated the political debate.

“People are voting the Iraq war – that’s front and center,” said Malhotra.

Nan Muntzing of Potomac said she is supporting Republicans Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Michael Steele for U.S. Senate candidate and state Del. Jean Cryor (R-15).

“Iraq is very important to this election, but so is terrorism,” Muntzing continued. “Wiretapping and the Patriot Act will go down the tube if [Republicans] lose Congress.”

THE INCREASINGLY TIGHT race for the U.S. Senate between long-time Congressman Ben Cardin (D) and lieutenant governor Michael Steele (R) also drew voters to the polls.

“Steele is a very impressive man, and I’d like to see him win,” said Muntzing. “Cardin is going to raise taxes. He wants to bring back the marriage tax, and he didn’t get rid of the death tax.”

Drezner criticized Steele for downplaying his affiliation with the Republican party.

“I think that Republican Michael Steele has run a campaign where he tried to portray himself as an independent,” she said. “I think that’s dishonest. He didn’t take a stand on anything.”

RESPONSE TO the recent blitz of campaign ads ranged from amusement to disgust.

“They started out cute,” said Malhotra. “Steele had that cute puppy, and Cardin said that Steele loves puppies but also loves [President George] Bush.”

“The ads don’t influence me personally because I’ve made up my mind,” said Muntzing. “A lot of people told me they found Steele’s ads entertaining.”

Drezner disagreed.

“I think the American people on both sides deserve better,” she said. “I think the Virginia [Senate] campaign was gross. It really plays down the intelligence of voters.”

Sally Pilkerton, mother of delegate candidate Chris Pilkerton (R-15), campaigned for her son outside of Saints Peter & Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church on Tuesday morning. She said she is displeased with the negative campaign ads.

“Negativity breeds negativity, and I don’t think it’s necessary in the end because people won’t listen,” she said.

Ahmad said he was angered by “misleading” campaign literature from the Ehrlich and Steele campaign.

THE BOARD of Elections worked to cleaned up it act since the primary election debacle.

Marjorie Roher, spokesperson for the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said that no major problems were reported at county polling stations — a large improvement over the havoc on primary day, when voter cards were not delivered to the election judges and there were insufficient provisional ballots at many sites.

Nancy Dacek, president of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, addressed reporters at Wootton High School shortly before the polls opened on Tuesday morning. She said she chose that location because it was where she discovered the problems that occurred during the primary elections.

The most significant problem in those elections was the lack of electronic voter cards, which were placed in bags separate from the other voting equipment and were subsequently misplaced.

"This time we had the judges open up all of the bags last night to make sure that those cards were in there," Dacek said. "We know they're here."

As a safeguard, additional provisional ballots were on hand at all polling sites.

Dacek expressed disappointment in the recent recommendations from Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) and County Executive Doug Duncan (D) that voters use absentee ballots to cast their votes and took issue with Duncan's recent suggestion that those responsible for the previous errors be fired.

"That would not have been a responsible decision with such a short turnaround time between the elections," for training and retraining purposes, she said.

0N TUESDAY AFTERNOON, Roher said that Election Day was going smoothly.

"All the polling places opened on time at 7 a.m. this morning with machines in place," she said. "We've had very few problems and none that caused any strategic issues at the polling places. Everything has been going fine."

Potomac was not free from voting problems. Tufail Ahmad, who ran for County Council as a Democrat in the primary election, is an area coordinator for the Democratic Party. He visited six polls on Tuesday morning in order to report the total number of votes to the Democratic Central Committee. He said that voting went smoothly at most sites but was informed of problems at two Potomac locations, including Wayside Elementary School.

Ahmad said he received a phone call from the other Potomac location that there were machine errors and an extremely long line that led 50-60 people to give up and leave.

“They promised to return” and vote later, said Ahmad. “I hope they will return.”

Roher said that data on turnout was unavailable on Tuesday afternoon but that there have been reports of long lines at the polls. Many campaign volunteers in front of Potomac polling places said turnout appeared strong on Tuesday morning.

Aaron Stern contributed to this article.