Computerized voting machines debuted in four Maryland counties during the September primaries, but only Montgomery County experienced significant problems, including polling places that opened late and election returns that were delayed until after 2 a.m. Margaret A. Jurgensen, the county's election director, answered questions from staff writer Annie Gowen about the problems and how they can be solved for the Nov. 5 general election.
QA County Council report released Monday warned that Montgomery County voters could face long waits at the polls because of continued staffing shortages and glitches in the new system. Do you agree with this assessment?
ABefore the general election, all election judges will have gone through extensive training. It is possible some lines may form at some precincts due to high voter turnout. If the voters wish to avoid lines, we encourage them to vote between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. As in any election, the voting process also can be expedited if voters come to the polls prepared by reviewing the English and Spanish sample ballot that has been mailed to them.
. . . The new election system and a sizable majority of our election judges performed very well during the primary in September. As our polling place staff is more familiar with the use of the new system, we expect as good, if not better, [results].
More than 138,000 county voters used the machines for the primary or tested them at public demonstrations during the year. What advice can you give the thousands of voters who will not have had any experience with computerized voting when they come to the polls?
We urge voters to check out www.mdvotes.org to review and interact with the touch-screen voting system displayed on the site. The touch-screen unit is very easy to operate. Its operation is similar to that of a microwave [oven] or an ATM. Selections are made on the touch screen by simply touching the name of the candidate on the screen. A red X will appear next to the candidate's name, indicating the selection the voter has made. If a voter wants to change their selection, the voter simply touches the area of the initial candidate they voted for, erasing this selection, then touch on their new selection.
The system eliminates the opportunity for a voter to vote for more than the designated candidates in a race. It provides a summary screen, so every voter can review their ballot once all selections are made, and make any necessary changes before casting the ballot.
You had anticipated needing 1,000 more trained election judges for the general election. How close are you to this goal?
We need Republican judges to meet the full complement for various precincts. Specifically, we need Republican judges in the Silver Spring, Wheaton and Takoma Park areas.
What changes have been made to ensure that polls will open promptly at 7 a.m. on Election Day for early bird voters?
We are committed to opening the polls at 7 a.m. This will be accomplished with the involvement and coordination of several divisions of Montgomery County employees and poll workers. This will assure all precincts are fully functional and ready for the poll workers by 6 a.m., so voting can officially begin at 7.
For the first time, the county is required to have Spanish-language ballots, as well as signage and other information for Spanish-speaking voters. What is being done to comply with this federal requirement?
For the primary, we provided Spanish-language ballots in the absentee, audio and touch-screen formats, along with polling place signage and voter information. The English/Spanish sample ballot -- with instructions on where to vote, what to do when arriving at the polling location and whom to contact to request assistance -- was mailed to every registered voter in Montgomery County.
Several months prior to the primary, the [elections] board provided information in English and Spanish about the new touch-screen voting system. These same efforts are being made for the general election. On Nov. 5, we will have numerous bilingual election judges in polling places throughout the county.