By David Betancourt and Timothy Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 14, 2008
The District's Board of Elections and Ethics ran a smooth operation on Election Day but it's hard to ignore the problems leading up to the vote as well as those faced during its reporting of the returns, D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh said yesterday.
Cheh (D-Ward 3), head of a three-member special council committee investigating the city's voting problems, is also locked in a standoff with Sequoia Voting Systems, whichoting equipment.
She has asked Sequoia to turn over its voting machine software, which Cheh has said she believes is responsible for some of the voting problems, but the company has refused.
Sequoia spokeswoman Michelle Shafer said, "The call for source code and other proprietary information from our company is unwarranted, and we will continue to defend our position on this issue."
Yesterday, after a voting-problems discussion during a hearing by her committee, Cheh said, "That's not acceptable."
"We will pursue a compliance with them," she said. "They're worried, and perhaps legitimately so, that their valuable asset might be compromised. I'm willing to talk to them about what would make them comfortable, but I will not accept that they're not going to give them to us."
Yesterday's hearing focused on the board's overall work.
"My office alone fielded dozens and dozens of phone calls and e-mails from distraught residents who had not received absentee ballots," Cheh said in her opening remarks. "I have deep concerns over quality control."
Problems included improperly printed and wrongly delivered absentee ballots, concerns with touch-screen voting machines and the slow release of results, which came in small batches on election night.
The council panel also includes Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large).
Kent Slowinski, who ran for a Ward 3 Advisory Neighborhood Commission seat last week, told the council yesterday that some voters told him that they couldn't find him on their ballots.
According to unofficial election results, Slowinski trails his opponent, Elizabeth Sandza, by 16 votes. The board must certify the results today. Slowinski has seven days to ask for a recount but said he does not have the necessary money.
"My best hope is that the write-ins and the in-person absentee votes will swing the vote in my favor," he told the committee. "I started campaigning a month before my opponent. I think that the people that voted early, I'll get most of those votes."
The election board has been plagued with problems. Last month, 126 District voters were mailed incorrect absentee ballots for the general election. In the September primary, a defective computer memory cartridge produced thousands of phantom write-in votes, and in February, the board ran out of ballots for the presidential primary.
Sylvia Goldsberry-Adams, acting executive director of the election board, was to testify but did not appear because of a last-minute scheduling conflict.
"I'm deeply disappointed," Cheh said. "That's the central witness to find out what's their explanation for all the problems that we encountered. It reinforces the notion that they're not out there. They're not answering questions. They're not engaging on issues that are their responsibility."
Cheh and Thomas have called for an account of what board members did on Election Day.
William O'Field, a former spokesman for the election board, said its level of transparency has slipped. "I didn't see one board member walk through the tabulation room," O'Field said. "There was more engagement with the public. I don't know what happened."
Board spokesman Dan Murphy said it is continuing to work with the council to identify areas that can be improved.