A voters' guide published by the D.C. elections board and mailed last week to more than 100,000 District households appears to instruct recipients to report to the wrong polling places for the Sept. 14 primary elections, an error that could lead to mass confusion on Election Day.
Alice P. Miller, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, acknowledged the error yesterday and said she is planning a second mailing to provide voters with accurate information about their polling places. Miller also defended the voters' guide, saying it is packed with sample ballots, candidate statements and other useful information about the coming local elections.
"It went out without the correct precinct number on it. Obviously, that's a mistake. It shouldn't have happened," Miller said in an interview. "But it's out. It's out on time. And it has a lot of good, reliable information in there."
The 50-page guide is only the second published by the D.C. elections board. The first, mailed in January, a week before the District's first-in-the-nation presidential primary, arrived in many mailboxes on or after Election Day, too late to do anyone much good.
This time, the board mailed the guide three weeks in advance. But because of a mix-up somewhere along the line, the board failed to include precinct numbers for each household on mailing labels affixed to the guide's back cover.
That turned out to be an important omission because, on Page 42, the guide instructs voters to check the mailing label for "your assigned polling place number." That number is supposed to correspond, in turn, to a list of polling places printed on Pages 42 to 48.
"You must vote at your assigned polling place for your vote to be counted," the guide cautions.
But there is no precinct number on the mailing label. The only number printed there is a meaningless mass-mailing code -- which, unfortunately, would lead voters to show up not only at the polling place for the wrong precinct but, in many cases, the wrong ward altogether.
Ellen Wormser, for example, is a Crestwood resident who lives in Precinct 47 in Ward 4 and has voted for years at Powell Elementary School at Upshur and 14th streets NW on the east side of Rock Creek Park.
But when Wormser checked her voters' guide this weekend, it seemed to be telling her that she lives in Precinct 30 in Ward 3 and that she should cast her ballot at Janney Elementary School at Albemarle Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW -- nearly 31/2 miles away on the west side of Rock Creek Park.
"It's an inexcusable mistake. It causes confusion, especially given all the new residents in my neighborhood," Wormser said.
Wormser quickly contacted her representative on the D.C. Council, Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), telling him "he'd have an awful lot of disaffected voters if they schlepped all the way over to Albemarle and found they couldn't vote there."
Fenty received e-mail from at least two other constituents who were equally befuddled by the guide's instructions. The elections board received calls almost as soon as the guide started hitting residents' mailboxes Thursday.
Yesterday, Fenty contacted Kathy Fairley, the D.C. registrar of voters, whose office is responsible for publishing the guide, and sent a letter requesting a correction.
At first, Fairley told Fenty's staff that the board would do nothing to fix the problem, Fenty said. "The most basic thing in the voters' guide is where the person is supposed to vote. Everything else, people can sort of figure out for themselves," Fenty said in an interview. "It's unbelievable."
By day's end, however, Miller had ordered that postcards be sent to every household that received the guide. Miller could not give a precise number but said the guide was sent to every household where at least one resident is registered as a Democrat, Republican or Green Party voter. She also invited voters to call her office at 202-727-2525 or check the board's Web site, dc.boee.org.
"By the time they need to go vote, everyone will know where to go," Miller said. "And you know what? This won't happen again. I can promise you that."