Friday, September 15, 2006

Election Debacle - Next Steps?

Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan has called for the removal of Board of Elections (BOE) President Nancy Dacek and the firing of Margaret Jurgensen, the county Director of Elections. County Council President George Leventhal is of a similar mind.

That may be an appropriate action to take, once all the facts are learned, but will that really fix the problems? Or is it simply a way for elected officials to score some PR points by showing outraged citizens that they're taking quick action? It seems to me that Tuesday's electoral fiasco shed light on some systemic, process-oriented problems that will not necessarily be fixed by simply changing personnel.

We know the voter access cards were not included in the sealed bags delivered to each precinct. How and why did that happen? An article in yesterday's Washington Post quoted Dacek as saying there are 110 items that are supposed to be included in those sealed packages. Today's Post includes an interview with Paul Valette, the county's Election Operations Manager. During the interview Valette states that there is a checklist for those 110 items, and when asked by the reporter to identify the access cards on the list he fumbles through several pages but can't seem to find them listed. "Maybe we've found the answer," he said.

Who was responsible for that checklist? What policies and procedures were in place to catch mistakes like that? Does the Board have redundancies built in to its procedures so that there are multiple opportunities to correct any problems?

Furthermore, once the mistake occurred, why did it take so long to correct? All 238 polling stations were apparently missing the access cards. According to some reports, a few precincts received their cards in time to open on time but it took over 4 hours for them to be delivered to every precinct. That's absolutely unacceptable. What plans, policies and procedures were in place to deal with the situation? Were those procedures followed? Were they adequate?

There were apparently numerous precincts that ran out of provisional paper ballots. Why? When (if) the Board realized it would take hours to get the electronic machines up and running, it would seem to have been a simple task to calculate the expected turnout versus the number of paper ballots sent to each precinct. Shouldn't immediate steps have been taken to send out additional ballots? In fact, why wasn't each precinct provided with enough provisional ballots to accommodate every interested voter should the machines have been down, for any reason, for the entire day?

Doesn't it make sense to have a comprehensive backup plan?

Voting is the bedrock of our democratic republic and the citizens of Montgomery County deserve nothing less than a smooth and accurate election. We are less than 60 days away from the general election, and the voters need answers and action quickly, but not just a band-aid approach that leaves in place inadequate plans and procedures.

Your thoughts?

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