Election Day Voting Fiasco Gives Credence to MoCo's Loco Label
T his has been building and we didn't see it coming. When Montgomery County -- land of good schools, fancy cars and a lawyer on every block -- suffered through a series of bizarre crimes a few years back, we dismissed them as examples of Loco MoCo, anomalies of life in an affluent enclave.
But now we've gone from odd crimes to distressing scandals, and yesterday Montgomery managed to throw into question the very foundation of its reputation as the quintessential smooth-running suburb.
Though the District of Columbia apparently pulled off an efficient and non-controversial election, Montgomery voters yesterday morning were shut out of the polls and fed wildly contradictory explanations at various polling places. Some people went out to vote and came home without having been permitted to do so.
At one point, I would not have been surprised to see those who did manage to cast a ballot holding up their ink-stained thumbs as gleeful proof that they had exercised their franchise. Well, maybe not: Iraq's ink-on-finger system may be too complicated for Montgomery election officials.
When things were going great in Montgomery, when County Executive Doug Duncan was writing checks in the mega-millions to build a world-class concert hall and a new downtown Silver Spring, we could look at the weird crimes that came along and ascribe them to the social rot that stems from too much wealth:
Ruthann Aron, a former candidate for the U.S. Senate who lived in Potomac, schemed to kill her husband and another man by hiring a hit man. She resorted to outsourcing only because her previous plan, offing hubby by poisoning his chili, hadn't worked out.
A Bethesda woman who worked for the State Department broke into the home of her best friend's estranged husband, bit him on the hand and shot him in the leg. The getaway car: a new silver Volvo.
The county police went after prostitutes, not by availing themselves of the offered services but by hiring informers at $100 a pop to take on the dirty work. Loco MoCo.
But politically, Montgomery seemed sound. The rest of Maryland could be disdainful about the county -- Montgomery is Maryland's Massachusetts, the butt of a thousand jokes because of its ultra-liberal politics -- but in the end, they were just jealous.
Then, the weirdness spread beyond the police log. Last year in Clarksburg, the county government allowed wholesale violations of the building plans for a huge development, a blow to Montgomery's reputation for good planning. This summer, Duncan found himself entangled in a local offshoot of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Now this. My friend Ann was still shaking with anger and disappointment hours after she was forced to leave her Bethesda voting station without any solution to an apparent software glitch that led the machine to eat her vote. When you get past the silliness of candidates' TV ads and the corruption of how we pay for campaigns, voting is one of the most powerful and emotional acts in our lives.
Elections Board President Nancy Dacek, a committed and honest political figure, quickly announced her regrets over the mess at the polling places. But regrets are not enough; if you can't get Election Day right, elections ought not be your line of work.
Yesterday's foul-up was blamed on human stupidity -- the failure to include computer cards in the packages that go out to polling places. Obviously a mess of this magnitude points to a systemic problem, too. Every bill you've ever paid carries a reminder to make sure your check is in the envelope.
The cumulative impact of the county's recent scandals has been to erode the sense that Montgomery was a place that works. For many years, suburban critics of the D.C. voting rights movement have scoffed at the idea that a city so deeply mired in corruption and incompetence would dare to battle for the right to be represented in Congress.
Based on yesterday's events, I have an idea: Until the county gets its act together, why don't we suspend Montgomery's voting rights and transfer them to the District? Can you say Congressman Barry?