Duncan Seeks Resignation of Election Chiefs

Julia MacDonough of Rockville, holding her 8-month-old son, Michael, hands in her ballot Tuesday at Thomas S. Wootton High School.
Julia MacDonough of Rockville, holding her 8-month-old son, Michael, hands in her ballot Tuesday at Thomas S. Wootton High School. (By Alexey Tolchinsky --
By Christian Davenport, Cameron W. Barr and Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 14, 2006

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan called yesterday for the county's top two elections officials to be fired, saying they were responsible for the widespread voting problems that marred Tuesday's primary election.

Duncan's demand, joined by County Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), came on a day of intense activity with the same basic intent: to find out what went wrong and who was to blame.

"I cannot recall a failure of local government like this," Leventhal said, adding that the county's Elections Board needs to be overhauled. "It is absolutely unacceptable and unconscionable."

The Republican governor, the Democrat-controlled legislature and embattled elections officials said it was imperative to figure out how to revamp voting procedures so that the November election is not even more of a debacle.

Voting at nearly every one of Montgomery's 238 polling places was delayed Tuesday -- in some cases for hours -- after elections officials forgot to distribute the plastic cards needed to activate the electronic voting machines. There also was chaos in Baltimore, where several elections judges failed to show up or were unfamiliar with the voting technology, and vote-counting in Prince George's County was marred by the failure to transmit results electronically from many precincts to the central elections office.

In a letter to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), Duncan (D) called for the dismissal of Nancy H. Dacek, president of Montgomery's Board of Elections, the five-member panel that is appointed by the governor. In a separate letter to Dacek, Duncan requested that she remove Margaret Jurgensen, the election director.

Unlike Dacek, Jurgensen is a county employee; the Board of Elections has the ability to fire her.

In an interview late yesterday, Dacek said she had not seen Duncan's letters. "The word 'scapegoat' comes to mind," she said of the call for her dismissal. "At this time, I have no intention of resigning. What the board and I intend is to study this whole issue and find out what really happened and then come to a decision."

She added, "We truly do not believe in rolling heads before there's been any kind of investigation."

Jurgensen could not be reached for comment. Elections Board spokeswoman Marjorie Roher said she was not available.

Roher identified Paul Valette as the elections operations manager who was supervising the staff that omitted the voting cards from the supply bags sent to precincts.

"Whatever went wrong on the operations side is my responsibility," Valette, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said last night in a telephone interview.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company