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Montgomery Election Nearly Goes South

Peter Franchot, a candidate for comptroller, talks with Nancy Dacek of the Montgomery elections board about the voting glitches.
Peter Franchot, a candidate for comptroller, talks with Nancy Dacek of the Montgomery elections board about the voting glitches. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

Here's what happened: Elections workers assembling packages for the polls somehow forgot to include the plastic ATM-like cards needed for each voter to use the electronic voting system. Workers had a checklist that was supposed to include the vital cards, so no one would forget: A low-tech redundancy against a botched election.

Instead, the cards remained at election headquarters, locked securely in a big blue cage on wheels, hiding in plain sight.

Nobody noticed until the morning of the election when election judges opened their poll packages.

Drivers rushed the cards to the precincts, but meanwhile 10,000 to 12,000 voters had to use paper provisional ballots over the course of the day. Many others reportedly left in frustration without voting, and the whole mess now is attached to that election hangover phrase, "under investigation."

Dacek, 72, was a 12-year County Council member representing the northern, more rural part of Montgomery who lost her seat in 2002. Gov. Robert Ehrlich appointed her to the elections board in 2003.

"There are apparently 110 things that have to be put in the bags to be taken to each polling place," Dacek says, her "I Voted" sticker clinging desperately to her white jacket. "It was a simple staff mistake."

Andrea LaRue, a lawyer volunteering on behalf of U.S. Senate candidate Ben Cardin, steps up to the counter with a question for Dacek.

"Do you have a chain-of-custody plan for the provisional ballots?" LaRue asks.

"A who?" Dacek replies.

* * *

Mary Shine couldn't believe what she was hearing.

A quintessential Montgomery resident, she has high expectations for her county, and she actively fulfills her part of the social contract. She's president of the Franklin Knolls Civic Association, and most election years she volunteers at the polls for one candidate or another. This year she was wearing a Ben Cardin T-shirt over her pink sweater.


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