D.C.'s Primary Task

Thursday, September 11, 2008

SO ELEMENTAL to government is the conduct of elections that there can be no excuse for failure. It's important, then, that D.C. officials not minimize the problems with Tuesday's primary. The chaos surrounding the results suggests that there may be bigger issues that need fixing and that, if left unresolved, could undermine voter confidence.

The outcomes of two races for D.C. Council seats were clouded by confusion over whether the correct number of votes was tallied. It appears that a cartridge from a ballot machine corrupted the tally by duplicating the number of write-in votes. A problem was discovered after preliminary, unofficial returns were posted, and uncertainty over the results wasn't cleared up until yesterday.

Officials are right in arguing that the problems didn't involve the more serious issue of people not being able to vote or votes not being counted. It also appears that there was never any change in which candidates -- Democratic Ward 2 incumbent Jack Evans and Republican at-large challenger Patrick Mara -- had the most votes. One wonders, though, why this kink wasn't detected in the testing that should occur before every election.

Tuesday's low turnout should have translated into an easy day. Equally troubling is that the primary problems came on the heels of the failure by the Board of Elections and Ethics to have sufficient paper ballots in place for the presidential primary in February.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) directed the acting attorney general to investigate Tuesday's glitch. Meanwhile, the Board of Elections and equipment supplier Sequoia Voting Systems have said they will conduct a joint investigation. Given the questions that were raised about the mayor's decision in May to replace the Board of Elections' chairman, it is also appropriate that the D.C. Council plans to conduct its own inquiry. It's important that there not be any lingering questions or problems, given the record turnout expected when voters go to the polls less than two months from now to elect a president.

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