De­lays, long lines and other elec­tion hic­cups

Of­fi­cials say process worked de­spite trou­ble with paper bal­lots, elec­tro­cuted squir­rel

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By Doug Donovan and Scott Dance Bal­ti­more Sun Media Group re­porters Yvonne Wenger, Tim Pru­dente, Colin Camp­bell, An­drea McDaniels, Cather­ine Rentz, Erika But­ler, David An­der­son, Chase Cook, Mered­ith New­man, Cindy Huang and Lor­raine Mirabella con­trib­uted t

Af­ter en­dur­ing a nasty pres­i­den­tial cam­paign that be­gan more than a year ago, some Mary­land vot­ers had to wait a bit longer Tues­day to cast their bal­lots as long lines, scat­tered mal­func­tions with a new paper sys­tem and even an elec­tro­cuted squir­rel caused de­lays.

De­spite the heavy turnout — spurred by the bat­tle be­tween Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump — elec­tion of­fi­cials said the new paper bal­lot process held up.

Steady streams of vot­ers started fil­ing in at 7 a.m. and re­mained in line well af­ter 8 p.m. at some polling places. While manypeo­ple who were in line before polls closed were al­lowed to stay and vote, state elec­tion of­fi­cials did not or­der any emer­gency ex­ten­sions to op­er­at­ing hours.

“We had some wait times, but that’s been true all over the coun­try,” said Linda La­mone, Mary­land’s elec­tions ad­min­is­tra­tor, who pre­dicted that when all the votes were counted, the turnout would sur­pass that of the last pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

In 2012, when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama faced Mitt Rom­ney, about 74 per­cent of Mary­land’s 3.7 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers cast bal­lots. This year, there are 3.9 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers in the heav­ily Demo­cratic state, which Clin­ton won Tues­day.

Elec­tion of­fi­cials im­ple­mented a paper bal­lot sys­tem this year. Fewer than 20 of the 2,900 bal­lot scan­ners mal­func­tioned on Tues­day, elec­tion of­fi­cials said.

In one area of Fred­er­ick County, de­lays were caused by na­ture, not the ma­chines.

Around 5:30 p.m., a squir­rel climbed up a pole and was elec­tro­cuted on a trans­former that pro­vided power to the polling place at Ur­bana El­e­men­tary School, said Stu­art Har­vey, the county’s elec­tions direc­tor.

Emer­gency bat­tery back­ups and a gen­er­a­tor set up by vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers from the fire sta­tion next door kept the process run­ning un­til power was re­stored at 6:30 p.m.

“They never missed a beat.” Har­vey said, adding that the de­lays were mi­nor.

In Bal­ti­more County, vot­ers re­ported more than two-hour waits in precincts with only one bal­lot scan­ner. In sev­eral polling places, the scan­ners broke down, re­quir­ing vot­ers to place their bal­lot sheets into se­cured boxes af­fixed to the ma­chines, said Paul Lubbell, pres­i­dent of the Bal­ti­more County Board of Elec­tions.

“No one was left with­out a scan­ner for more than an hour or so,” Lubbell said.

The city also had prob­lems, but noth­ing close to those in April’s pri­mary elec­tion that led the state to briefly de­cer­tify those re­sults.

Arm­stead B.C. Jones Sr., Bal­ti­more’s elec­tion direc­tor, said he es­ti­mated about 200,000 vot­ers cast bal­lots Tues­day, just short of the 208,000 who voted in 2012.

“We might get a lit­tle higher than that,” Jones said.

One polling place, Beth Am Sy­n­a­gogue, opened about 45 min­utes late Tues­day morn­ing af­ter a judge stormed out in frus­tra­tion, leav­ing two poll work­ers alone. Jones and seven stand-by elec­tion judges stepped in to get the precinct upan­drun­ning.

Eric Hontz, a Reser­voir Hill res­i­dent who works at a non­profit in Wash­ing­ton, said that in April he gave up af­ter wait­ing an hour and a half to vote and re­turned in the evening. On Tues­day, he ar­rived at 7 a.m. and waited two hours to vote.

“It seems ridicu­lous that it’s the same polling place, and it’s hap­pened two elec­tions in a row,” Hontz said.

In some cases around the state, vot­ers re­ported find­ing the sec­ond pages of their bal­lots had al­ready been filled out. Nikki Charl­son, deputy ad­min­is­tra­tor for the Mary­land State Board of Elec­tions, said in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­vealed that elec­tion judges mis­tak­enly handed out bal­lots that other vot­ers had started to fill out but aban­doned.

Mary­land Comp­trol­ler Peter Fran­chot said polling places han­dled the large crowds ef­fec­tively. But he was con­cerned about the di­vi­sive­ness he saw as he greeted a steady stream of vot­ers in North­east Bal­ti­more.

He found an elec­torate with “very, very strained feel­ings.”

“What­ever hap­pens to­day, to­mor­row I am go­ing to sug­gest to [Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan] we go out and have some town meet­ings to re­mind Mary­lan­ders we’re Mary­lan­ders first, and Democrats and Repub­li­cans sec­ond, just to lower the tem­per­a­ture,” said Fran­chot, who is not on the bal­lot this year.

Mar­garet Guth, 72, ex­haled with a sigh re­lief as she left Evan­gel­i­cal Pres­by­te­rian Church in Bal­ti­more County. She voted for Clin­ton.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Guth said, “but maybe the fun is just go­ing to start.”

BRIAN KRISTA/BAL­TI­MORE SUN MEDIA GROUP

Mary Waesche of Lutherville scans her bal­lot as a line of other vot­ers with com­pleted bal­lots wait be­hind her in­side the polling place at Ti­mo­nium El­e­men­tary School. In Bal­ti­more County, vot­ers re­ported more than two-hour waits in precincts with only one bal­lot scan­ner.

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