Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Election Chaos

I have been hitting the streets, talking to voters, campaign workers and precinct officials at 5 different polling locations in Derwood and Gaithersburg today. And colleagues of mine have been to several others. What a disaster! Here's some of what we found:

Ballot access cards were not distributed to many (most?) Montgomery County precincts in time for the polls to open, resulting in the possible disenfranchisement of thousands of voters and perhaps altering the outcome of close local and statewide races.

Some polling stations apparently ran out of provisional ballots (which were used in many cases until the electronic machines were up and running).

The first precinct I was at this morning actually turned away voters, telling them the precinct was closed and to either come back in a few hours or go vote at a neighboring precinct.

The Board of Elections (BOE) apparently doesn't have the resources to count the thousands of provisional ballots in a timely fashion, and may not finish the task for nearly a week.

The BOE voted to keep polling places open for an extra hour in an effort to give voters an opportunity to cast their ballots - a court approved. However, though that decision was made early this afternoon, at 5:00pm numerous election judges were still unaware that such an order had been given. One chief judge told me that although he had heard from voters that the polls were to stay open until 9:00, he was still planning to close at 8:00 unless he received a call from the BOE (he also admitted that he couldn't get a cell signal, and that was the only way for the BOE to contact his precinct short of sending a messenger.... I assume he was planning to go outside to get a signal and call the BOE before he closed up shop).

A colleague reported that several other election judges said they had heard only selected precincts were to remain open until 9:00pm (I actually got out my cell and called the BOE on the spot to confirm that all precincts were to remain open).

We also learned that even though the polls were ordered to stay open until 9:00, the electronic voting machines were still to be turned off at 8:00. Everyone voting after 8:00 would be required to use a paper provisional ballot (the ones that may not be counted until next week). A colleague of mine later told me he believes provisional ballots are required to be used, under federal law, during extended voting periods.

Wow! This story has gone far beyond just a local sensation. The national media is picking it up (Chris Matthews was just discussing it on Hardball) as are some of the bigtime bloggers (Kos is actually calling for a statewide "do-over").

More to come, I am sure. It's going to be a long night folks. So what's on your mind? How did things go at your precinct?

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