Some Voters Left Exercising Only The Right to Vent

Montgomery County precincts, including the one at Kensington Town Hall, were ordered to stay open an hour late after errors left voting machines inoperable.
Montgomery County precincts, including the one at Kensington Town Hall, were ordered to stay open an hour late after errors left voting machines inoperable. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Less than an hour before Neil Davis absolutely had to be at his desk at the U.S. Department of Labor in the District, he found himself still at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, surrounded by inoperable electronic voting machines, growing ever more anxious as he waited in line for a dwindling supply of backup paper ballots.

There were four ballots left, and Davis was fourth in line. He had a chance. Then someone walked off with the final ballot, with talk of finding a photocopier.

"The guy just announced they were out of them and they were sorry," said Davis, 55, an occupational health scientist who lives in Bethesda. "The exchange was, 'You're kidding. I don't believe this. I've got to go to work.' Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp."

Nearly all 238 precincts in Montgomery County opened for yesterday's primary without the voter authorization cards used to activate the electronic voting machines because workers failed to include them in the packages that go out to polling places. Davis and many of his fellow early morning voters felt bewildered watching democracy fall on its face.

"It's kind of like it was a banana republic," said Davis, who planned to return to the polls after work for a second run at enfranchisement. "It just wasn't a pleasant experience."

The problems at the polls struck hard in Montgomery, but voters also reported problems in Prince George's County and Baltimore. When the electronic voting machines failed, in some cases the limited supply of paper ballots ran out, forcing people to leave without voting. At some polling stations where the electronic machines were operable, some voters encountered a computer glitch that insisted they had already voted.

"The people who vote in the primary are pretty serious voters and take their obligation very seriously, and for this to happen is totally unacceptable," said Janice Flug, 56, a librarian at American University who lives in Silver Spring. "I'm sure that many people throw up their hands and say 'forget this,' and that is not right."

Flug woke up at dawn to be able to arrive at Galway Elementary School in Silver Spring a few minutes before the polls opened at 7. She spent the weekend doing research on the candidates -- down to those running for the Democratic Central Committee -- studying the sample ballot, making her choices. She was ready. The machines were not.

"A few moments after 7, the election official came out and said, 'We have a problem,' that some of the equipment did not arrive," she said.

"I spoke up and said, 'This is unacceptable. I had plans for this evening. I planned for this," she said. "He had his cellphone in hand, I think a cigarette in the other, and basically blew us off."

Flug said the election official did not offer voters provisional paper ballots and instead told them to come back later. "That's what really ticked me off," she said. "You're basically disenfranchising us."

Flug, who works in the District, canceled her dinner plans. "It takes me an hour and a half to drive in to work. It's not like you can just pop over in the middle of the day to revote," she said.

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