Election Officials Note Few Problems

By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2006

District voters reported problems yesterday at scattered polling locations throughout the city, but officials with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics said that overall voting went smoothly and that the city's elections were more secure than the elections two years ago.

Throughout late afternoon, workers at many precinct sites reported light to moderate turnout, and some precincts struggled in the morning to get up and running. Voter Joyce Clemons, for example, arrived at Martin Luther King Elementary School in Ward 8 about 15 minutes before the polls opened at 7 a.m. But the doors did not open on time because the precinct captain in charge of the location hadn't arrived, said Clemons, who watched several people in line leave.

Elections officials said that they directed a few voters to correct polling locations but that the numbers were not unusual, even after more than 150,000 households had received D.C. Voter Guides in the mail with the wrong precinct number. Postcards were then sent with the correct ones. But not everyone who wanted to vote got the chance because of registration issues.

Alice P. Miller, executive director of the election board, said that there were "typical glitches" yesterday morning but that they were mostly "isolated."

This year's system is "more secure" and reliable, she said.

The cartridges that contain voting tabulations from each precinct were hand-delivered to the board's offices at One Judiciary Square after voting closed at 8 p.m. In the last elections, two years ago, the tabulations from optical scanners -- the machines into which voters insert their completed paper ballot -- were sent by modem to the board, and there was fear that someone could hack into the system.

In a sample of polling sites yesterday, precinct captains said inadequate staffing made the day more challenging.

At Murch Elementary School in Ward 3, precinct captain Ronald Conner said he had only six workers, when in the past he has had 10. The volunteers who did show up were well trained and worked diligently, Conner said, which helped make up for the shortage.

"We need more people to step up to the plate and do their civic duty," said Conner, adding that the poll volunteers at his precinct made a "herculean" effort to make the day run smoothly.

Several Republicans, including Ward 6 candidate Antonio "Tony" Williams, said that when they arrived to vote in their party's primary, workers gave them Democratic ballots.

Some voters said they had registered to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles but were told that they were not on the rolls.

Hema Subramanian said she did not receive a voters guide in the mail but had checked online to confirm whether she was registered. She wasn't.

When she called the election board, workers asked whether she had registered through the DMV. "They sounded like they knew this problem to be common," Subramanian said.

Subramanian tried to vote at Bancroft Elementary School in Mount Pleasant and was told again that she was not registered.

At the Edmund Burke school, precinct captain Sharon McDaniel said she had expected long lines of voters, but as of 4 p.m., 794 of the 3,745 registered had come.

"It's going very slowly," said McDaniel, adding that some Ward 3 voters said they were turned off by the deluge of recorded calls from candidates in recent days.

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