Potomac voters who arrived at the polls early on Tuesday to vote before commuting to work were faced with long lines and frustration, with many turned away and told to come back later.
The automated voting cards for the electronic voting machines were not delivered to more than 200 polling places in Montgomery County. Some polling sites ran out of provisional paper ballots, and others failed to inform voters of the paper ballot option.
By the time the harried poll workers had delivered the electronic cards to the precincts, many would-be voters had given up and left for work or to fulfill other obligations.
The Board of Elections successfully petitioned the Circuit Court of Montgomery County for an order to keep voting polls open an additional hour on Tuesday night in order to give residents more flexibility in returning to the polls. The provisional ballots will not be counted until Monday because of inadequate staffing.
DEL. BRIAN FELDMAN (D-15) of Potomac noted that Montgomery County’s voting troubles could seriously hamper local candidacies.
“People were presented with provisional ballots first, but then the provisional ballots at some places they ran out,” he said. “At some of the major Potomac precincts, like Churchill High School, Hoover Middle School and several others right in the heart of Potomac, the cards did not arrive until approximately 8:30.
“You’re talking about an hour and a half of rush-hour morning traffic — a lot of races in the county and state are potentially impacted,” Feldman said. “[Comptroller candidate] Peter Franchot and [Maryland Attorney General candidate] Doug Gansler were obviously banking on large Montgomery County turnout. For them, an hour and a half … is a missed opportunity and a major problem.”
Feldman, who did not face a competitive primary, said that lawsuits could be around the corner from candidates who lose by slim margins.
“In 2006 for something like this to happen is really inexcusable,” he said. “A lot of people are going to be wanting some answers. The big issue is finding out how and why this happened, and correcting the problems for the November election.”
Feldman was also concerned that voter turnout “seemed light.”
“I don’t know what numbers will be, but I think it will be unlikely to have 20 percent of registered Democrats voting today,” he said. “It’s hard to figure out because this is a county that prides itself on being educated and politically aware, but we’re hard-pressed to get 25 percent of our registered voters to the polls. My impression is that turnout as of right now is peculiarly light given the magnitude of the offices we’re voting on today.
Del. Jean Cryor (R-15) of Potomac visited numerous polling sites in Potomac and Poolesville. She said that volunteers at the sites complained of running out of provisional ballots and pencils, and that some registered voters were disturbed because their information was not in the new electronic registration books.
“As people like me said in Annapolis, we cannot rush this process” of implementing new technology, said Cryor, who did not face a competitive primary. “Like everything else, it requires time to see where the weaknesses are.”
Cryor estimated that turnout was about the same as in previous elections. She said that the mood at the sites she visited conveyed annoyance but not anger.
“I didn’t see anyone upset or angry,” she said. “But we have to acknowledge, this is not the way to do it. There has to be some real changes.”
JANIS SARTUCCI, a Potomac resident and former coordinator of the Churchill cluster, volunteered at three local voting sites on Tuesday morning. She said they all opened late or had to start with paper ballots. Sartucci said that at Potomac Elementary, the initial small supply of electronic cards had errors and had to be cleared repeatedly. At Bells Mill Elementary, the system crashed for about an hour soon after the poll opened. Sartucci was also concerned by what she called “a very, very light turnout.”
“How is this going to play out in close races?” she asked. “Certainly there will be concerns if people were turned away and left in frustration. If there are any close races, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Suzanne Weiss of Potomac, who is also a former coordinator of the Churchill cluster, is disappointed that the county does not plan to count the provisional ballots for nearly a week.
“It seems to me that if provisional ballots were used for morning voting throughout the county, they should find a way to expedite that,” she said.
Weiss volunteered at the Churchill High poll.
“They ran out of provisional ballots,” she said. “People just left – they didn’t like the wait or the manual voting.
“Even keeping the polls open the extra time tonight won’t accommodate the people who took the time to vote and gave up,” she continued. “My secondary school students were at a different polling place [distributing campaign literature], and people were yelling at them, ‘What’s the point of your information? I can’t even vote.’”
“I deeply regret the difficulty that voters experienced this morning in casting their ballots because access cards were not delivered to many polling places on time,” said Nancy H. Dacek, president of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, Tuesday afternoon in a statement. “Voters found their polling places unequipped, and for that I am sincerely sorry.”