Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Provisional ballots won't count in election

ACLU tries to clear up misconception in Prince George’s County

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This story was corrected on Feb. 8, 2008, from its original version.

If properly registered voters choose to submit a provisional ballot rather than use the electronic touch screen for the Feb. 12 primary elections, their votes will not count according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

According to a letter to Attorney General Doug Gansler, ACLU legal director Deborah A. Jeon said that inaccurate training provided to chief election judges in Prince George’s County could lead to the disenfranchisement of voters.

Voters must use the electronic touch screen in order for their vote to be submitted.

Jeon said judges were instructed at a training session to give out paper ballots on request. They also were told to instruct voters asking for provisional ballots to consult the local Board of Canvassers about whether their vote was counted.

In response, the State Board of Elections has instructed county election judges that those who are eligible to vote cannot ask for provisional ballots.

Ross Goldstein, deputy state administrator of elections, made it clear that such ballots will not be counted.

‘‘There’s already a warning that will be put in the polling places about it that reads, ‘If you are eligible to vote, you are not eligible to receive a provisional ballot,’” Goldstein said.

‘‘There is no choice. If you are properly registered to vote but still ask for a provisional ballot, it’s about the same as forfeiting your right to vote.”

Prince George’s County chief election judge Rebecca Wilson contacted the ACLU after attending a training session last month in which the faulty information was issued.

‘‘I think it’s sad that voters who ask to vote on a provisional ballot because they are afraid that the voting machine won’t count their vote correctly, are only ensuring that their votes won’t be counted at all,” said Wilson, a Hyattsville resident who is a director of the Columbia-based SAVE (Secure Accessible Verifiable Elections) Our Votes.

She said it was clear in the 2006 election that if the voter does not use the voting machine they forfeit the right to vote.

Goldstein acknowledged the confusion arose because a single line was omitted from the training manual for chief election judges on forfeiting the vote.

‘‘Some people have concerns about the electronic touch screen system,” Goldstein said. ‘‘But they are not eligible to get a provisional paper ballot. Their vote will be rejected by the canvassers.”

The provisional ballot is meant to be a safeguard to ensure that a person is voting in the correct district, but it is not intended to be an alternative for direct-recording electronic voting

The ACLU said the public needed to be better informed.

‘‘The provisional ballot does not function as an optional paper ballot,” said Meredith Curtis, an ACLU spokeswoman. ‘‘Really, if they have not asked for an absentee ballot, their only option is to use the machines.”

E-mail Ahmar Mustikhan at amustikhan@gazette.net