Nearly 3,000 absentee ballots yet to be sent

Board of elections scrambles to prepare for general election on Tuesday

Thursday, Nov. 2, 2006

The Prince George’s County Board of Elections is scrambling to process thousands of absentee ballot requests just days before Tuesday’s general election, and is placing the blame for any delays squarely on the state elections chief.

Interim County Elections Administrator Robert J. Antonetti, Sr. said that as of Wednesday – the deadline for requesting absentee ballots – the elections board had received 13,501 absentee ballot requests. All but 2,953 have been processed. Nearly 250 ballot requests are unfilled because the board ran out of the demanded ballot styles.

The board is missing three of the 37 ballot styles. Antonetti could not say which districts those ballots belong to.

In addition to meeting the absentee ballot requests, the board must also prepare about 300 provisional ballots for each of the 206 precincts. But the board does not have provisional ballots on hand to fill the needed 61,800 slots.

While most overseas absentee ballot requests have been filled, Antonetti said he is hopeful that all of the requests will be met. Each ballot must be postmarked by Monday for it to be valid.

‘‘It would be a shame if we couldn’t get them all out,” Antonetti said.

What is holding up the ballots are issues with the ballot-maker, Diebold — the same company that is supplying the sensitive voting machines, Antonetti said.

One of the ballots the board received read style No. 6 but was actually a No. 9 style ballot. The error has further delayed the already bogged down process at the election board.

Diebold spokeswoman Jessica Goon said there was an episode of ‘‘printing confusion” and that it was quickly resolved. Goon said the county should have received 1,000 copies each of the three missing ballot styles Wednesday. But just two hours before the election board closed, Antonetti said he had yet to receive those ballots.

Goon said Diebold received a record number of requests from Maryland – so many that the company is putting other states’ requests on hold to meet the demand.

The county experienced a variety of problems during the primary: polling stations opened late because of faulty voting machines and absent election judges; a system error forced some election judges to take electronic cards containing the results to the board headquarters, where they were uploaded; the board stopped uploading results at 2:30 a.m., dragging out the results of many close races.

The primary debacle, as well as the current absentee ballot issue, was caused by ineffective planning and leadership by state elections administrator Linda Lamone, Antonetti said. He said the state puts too much pressure on overworked county election offices, then blames issues that arise on local election officials.

‘‘[Lamone] is responsible for this,” Antonetti said. ‘‘She’s the one who ordered the forms. She didn’t do a good job, and is not holding Diebold accountable ... The quality of elections in Maryland in the last four years has gone down. Linda Lamone has dragged down the election system by politicizing it.

‘‘She needs to be removed from office,” he said.

Antonetti said those errors of the primary have been fixed, and safeguards are put in place to avoid another major catastrophe. All of the voting machines have been tested, and the precinct chiefs have received extensive training on the system.

One of the major issues in the primary was the absence of 15 technicians hired to handle problems with the voting machines. Antonetti said 24 extra technicians were hired to avoid the same catastrophe.

But problems continue to remain aside from the lack of absentee ballots. For example, the City of Bowie’s Diversity Committee is drafting a letter to Antonetti citing poor conditions at the Bowie State University polling station, which committee members say is inaccessible to disabled people.

To ensure voting accuracy and accessibility, there will be poll monitors inside the precinct and watchers outside from both political parties at the precincts. Terry Speigner, chairman of the county’s Democratic Central Committee, said he is confident the general election will run smoother than the primary.

‘‘We’ll be there to make sure people have ability to cast their vote and every ballot is counted,” Speigner said. ‘‘Things look buttoned down and ready to go. There should be no issues.”