Thursday, September 14, 2006

More on the Election Embarrassment

Originally posted at MoCoPolitics.

The problems Tuesday in Montgomery County were a complete and total nightmare. The situation exposed a host of problems, from basic competence to problems with the electronic voting system (the poll books repeatedly crashed, there weren't enough printers), etc.

I want to say two other things that I think are being missed in the early discussion. First, I think there are serious problems with the entire model of running elections, especially since the move to electronic voting. Quite simply, the BOE in Montgomery County has not kept pace with modern society. The phone number for the BOE repeatedly told me throughout Tuesday that it was not in service. After 5:00 p.m., it said that the office was closed. Would it be too much to stay open late on Election Day?

There are more problems. There was a complete lack of communication between the BOE and the election judges in the precincts. Numerous judges throughout Silver Spring and Takoma Park claimed to be "unaware" of the court order directing that precincts remain open for voting until 9:00, even hours after the court order at around 2. Rather than take the simple step of calling the BOE, the judges stated that they were going to close at 8 unless someone from the BOE called them and told them to stay open. One precinct (13-18, Oak View ES) did close early, claiming that because that precinct opened on time without any problems, the order didn't apply to them. Even after being shown the court order saying ALL precincts should remain open, that precinct closed at 8. Another judge acknowledged that there was no cell phone reception inside the polling place, but still refused to step outside to make a call to the BOE.

But wait, there's more. Even after recognizing that someone "forgot" to pack the voting cards in the precinct materials over the weekend, the BOE failed to distribute additional provisional ballots to handle the situation. By the end of the day, votes were being cast on campaign literature. I mean really, how can this happen in the 21st century?

And why wouldn't the BOE, just to be safe, print enough provisional ballots so that, if necessary, EVERY VOTE in the precinct could be made by provisional ballot? Just in case? Just in case someone decided to, in essence, wake up, take a shower, and go to work naked? How hard would that have been? How much would it have cost? Just in District 20, there are 33,000 registered Democrats. If the BOE printed and distributed that number of provisional ballots, JUST IN CASE, it would have cost $3,300 at Kinko's, and I'm sure the BOE could have gotten a volume discount. Call it $2,500. Eight state senate districts in Maryland, $20,000 in copying. Pretty reasonable price NOT TO HAVE COMPLETELY FUCKED UP AN ENTIRE ELECTION AND MADE OUR COUNTY LOOK LIKE A BUNCH OF COMPLETE IDIOTS.

What bothered me the most was the utter lack of a public response from the BOE to reassure voters. Judges were unresponsive, and at least as far as I could tell, Rockville never really acted like it gave a shit one way or the other. They didn't go public with reassurances that the problems were solved (allowing the media to continue telling people that they shouldn't go vote until later in the day), they didn't get more provisional ballots out. Honestly, it didn't seem to me like they did much of ANYTHING.

This is insanity. I cannot fathom how the BOE does not have plans for communications in this situation. Most of these precinct locations are in schools, and the last time I checked, schools have telephones -- land lines, even. Why in the name of all that is good and holy doesn't the BOE utilize these phones to communicate with its judges at the precinct locations? Why are the judges so rigid and hidebound that even after being presented with a copy of a court order, they refuse to acknowledge it or abide by it until someone from Rockville calls them to tell them what to do?

So yes, I agree with Doug Duncan and George Leventhal and others who say "off with their heads."

But is right now the best time to call for such action? While it makes elected officials look good, now is not the right time to take drastic steps like firing everybody.

Why? Because despite the fact that the Democratic primary is the election in most of Montgomery County, there IS a general election in November, and there ARE some key statewide races in which Montgomery County votes are going to be critical. And faced with the choice between incompetent but experienced election administrators and competent but clueless ones, IN THE SHORT RUN, I'll take experience over competence. There's not enough time between now and November to fire the current sorry crew AND to bring in savvy enough replacements to avoid a fiasco in November. And a fiasco in Montgomery County in November means continuing to call Bobby Haircut "Governor" and starting to call Michael Steele "Senator" and Scott Rolle "Attorney General."

Those prospects are just too frightening to consider. So to George Leventhal and Doug Duncan and all the other bloggers around Maryland, yes, things have to change, and yes, I agree with Bruce Godfrey that bloggers have a key role to play in this, but no, now is not the time. Talk to me again in December, and then we can start in on the process of pink slips for everyone from Linda Lamone down to the guy driving the silver Honda Civic at Sligo Creek Elementary School on Tuesday morning who didn't know what precinct he was at -- after he got there.


Blogger Bruce Godfrey said...

We should push the meme that this was an electoral Katrina and that the Board did a heckuva job.

9/14/2006 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Gilbert said...

I'm told that TrueVote Maryland is collecting examples of snafus. I don't see any indication of this on their website, however. Their blog does have descriptions of some of more ridiculous problems:

"Just in case someone decided to, in essence, wake up, take a shower, and go to work naked? "

Wow, you do that, TOO?

- Gilbert

9/14/2006 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger MoCoPolitics said...

Gilbert, Gilbert, Gilbert --

Silly Gilbert. Bloggers don't go to work naked, we go to work in our PAJAMAS. Shower optional. Cheeto stains on our fingers tres chic.

It's not good when you forget your mainstream media cliches, dontcha know?

9/14/2006 03:06:00 PM  

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