Once again, delays plague counting of ballots in the District

Voters in D.C. cast ballots Tuesday in the closely watched Democratic primary race for mayor between Adrian Fenty and Vincent C. Gray.
By Mike DeBonis
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 3:55 AM

It took nearly six hours after polls closed Tuesday for elections officials to declare winners in nine city Democratic races -- none of which appeared to be any closer than the eight percentage points that represented the margin in the headline clash between D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

A day that started with problems for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, with scattered glitches with new voter equipment, ended with more problems.

In what has become a biennial tradition for the board, the counting extended well into the night, delayed by overly cautious officials who said that the need to verify voter tallies outweighed a desire to report timely results.

About 11:30 p.m., results still were trickling out of the elections board even as results poured in from statewide races across the country. Two hours earlier, the Associated Press had already called the Republican primary race for Delaware's sole House seat -- a race that appeared to be decided by a margin similar to the mayoral race. (Delaware's polls also close at 8 p.m.)

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who oversees the elections board and pushed for new election laws that established early voting and same-day registration, said the Board of Elections and Ethics mismanaged the primary.

"I'm so disappointed in this performance," she said. "From point one to point 10, we have colossal mismanagement."

Rokey W. Suleman II, the board's executive director, who has served in the post for about a year, defended the board's showing. "It's the first time we're working on this equipment, and we're more concerned with accuracy over speed," Suleman said.

Cheh said her staff watching elections workers told her that officials could not figure out how to transfer data to the Internet for distribution. Cheh was demanding that the board issue all results to the public.

"I don't care if they have to hang it on a chalkboard and wait for technology later," she said.

Cheh said she had scheduled an oversight hearing on the problems for Oct. 8.

As the clock approached midnight, with about two dozen of the city's 143 precincts reporting just before midnight, Fenty was racking up huge margins in western Ward 3, where his message of improved city services and education reform found a welcome audience. But in the high-voting middle-class neighborhoods of wards 4, 5, and 7, Gray was decimating Fenty. In Precinct 66, in the Lamond Riggs neighborhood in Ward 5, Gray won 1,190 votes to Fenty's 266, marking a dramatic reversal for the mayor.

The count ended a tumultuous day of balloting that culminated in a courtroom where a Superior Court judge rejected Gray's request to extend Election Day voting hours past 8 p.m.

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