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Election Day blues were few in Washington County

State task force hears about voting problems

State task force hears about voting problems

December 05, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - An electrical outage at a Washington County polling place last year was one of the few local problems described Tuesday to a statewide task force examining voting irregularities.

The episode showed what can go wrong on Election Day - and how quickly it can be conquered.

A construction problem caused a "totally unexpected" power failure at the polling place, Maranatha Brethren Church off Jefferson Boulevard, said Charles L. "Jim" Mobley Jr., the president of the county's board of elections at the time.

Mobley said a battery backup for the voting machines kicked in, then an election judge brought in a generator as a power supply.

"The precinct never shut down," he said.

The task force, created by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, is gathering feedback on election problems.

Aside from a few late-opening polling places, the rest of the process also worked well last year, county election officials told the task force.

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Tuesday's public hearing at Hagerstown Community College was the task force's third in the state, according to Gansler's office. About 35 people attended.

Co-chairman Orlan Johnson, of the Washington, D.C., law firm Saul Ewing, said the task force expects to issue a report early next year.

Roger Schlossberg, the attorney for the Washington County Board of Elections, urged the state to require people to show identification before voting. He said it's a safeguard that doesn't seem burdensome, considering that people who don't drive can get an ID card.

Task force member Lu Pierson, the president of the state's League of Women Voters, questioned the suggestion, noting that voting is a constitutional right.

Todd Hershey of Keedysville, the county's treasurer, asked about the lack of a paper record for votes, which he said would boost public confidence in the election process.

"I believe people deserve a paper audit trail," he said.

Task force member John T. Willis, a past secretary of state in Maryland, said the machines do have an auditing system, but it's not necessarily paperwork a voter would see.

Other audience suggestions included a phone number for people to reach a live person to report election problems and cutting the number of hours of an election from 13 to 12, giving poll workers a small break.

Washington County Election Director Dorothy Kaetzel pointed out a new voting requirement: People can no longer vote for a statewide office by provisional ballot anywhere in the state. Instead, they have to cast their vote in their home election district, she said.

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