I have lived in Montgomery County, Maryland all my life and have voted in every election, primary and general since I was eighteen which means I have been voting for nearly thirty years. I think this qualifies me as an experienced voter, but nothing could have prepared me for yesterday’s primary election.
As a Republican precinct chairman I dutifully showed up early to set up a literature table. I noticed that the traffic was pretty light so I decided to go ahead and vote as soon as I could. When I got inside the polling place the line was a little backed up even though there were only a handful of people ahead of me. I soon found out why. In 2002 the county converted from punch card ballots to electronic voting. Yesterday the machines weren’t working because the election officials forgot to provide our precinct (and it turned out many others) with voting cards that operate the machines. Everyone now had to cast a provisional paper ballot. I felt like I was in high school taking a test to fill in the circles with a pencil. Once I was done I had to fold my ballot and place it in an envelope, seal it and then try and stuff it in a bag held by an election official with a very narrow opening.
I thought that even though the process was more time consuming that it should have been, at least I did my duty. Or so I thought until I turned on my car radio on the way home and found out that all the paper ballots cast won’t be counted until next week and then maybe not at all if they won’t affect the outcome of the races. Since I cast a republican ballot and most of the races were uncontested I highly doubt that my vote and many others will be counted.
Election officials scrambled to rectify the situation and by the time my wife voted a few hours later, she was able to vote electronically. Things were so screwed up throughout the county that a judge ordered the polls to stay open an extra hour, though I fail to see how staying open longer actually would rectify the errors of the morning.
What made matters worse in my opinion though was the decision of election officials to use my polling place as a venue for the primary. It’s a nice place and convenient to my home, except that the road that leads to the facility is undergoing repairs and is closed to all but local traffic at one point. This required me to take a circuitous route to get there. Since this was a primary, turnout was bound to be low, but the democrats had several competitive races and I think many people probably decided to stay away rather than get stuck in traffic. I checked the numbers and in the first three hours, a whopping 78 people voted which represented less than 10% of the precinct’s registered voters. When I checked again in the afternoon after the polls had been open for eight hours the total number of voters had reached 189. The five democratic poll workers from the morning had dwindled to two by then, since there was little for them to do.
Even though most of the races have been decided, the election officials in my county will probably take a pounding from the media and deservedly so. In a county that ranks as one of the richest in the nation on a per capita income basis, there is no excuse for such silly mistakes to occur.
If there is a silver lining to all of this it would be that the democrats plan to allow voters to vote early and at any polling place was successfully halted by the governor for now. Can you imagine what would have happened if voters from other precincts had shown up to vote yesterday while officials were struggling with the paper ballots? Where are the punch card machines when you need them?