ANNAPOLIS – Citing “inexcusable system failures,” two top leaders of the Maryland General Assembly on Thursday ordered an audit to determine what caused voting problems in Tuesday’s primary and to recommend how to fix them before November.
“We are extremely concerned about accounts of seemingly avoidable leadership errors, poor preparation, and questionable decision-making on the parts of both the Baltimore City and Montgomery County elections administrators,” said Senate President Thomas V. Miller, D-Prince George’s, and House Speaker Michael L. Busch, D-Anne Arundel.
“We believe that this action is necessary to restore voter confidence?” Miller and Busch said in a letter to Karl S. Aro, executive director of the Department of Legislative Services, which handles audits.
The action by the Assembly’s two top Democrats came as officials around the state continued to contend with the fallout from a primary election which saw widespread problems in two of the state’s most populous jurisdictions.
In Montgomery County, where missing electronic cards and glitches in the new electronic voting system caused polls to open hours late, elections officials said they have requested a Houston consulting firm with experience in election management, The Election Center, to review its flawed processes.
Meanwhile, the Montgomery elections board said it would refuse to fire Margaret Jurgensen, the county director of elections, as the County Executive, Doug Duncan, demanded on Wednesday. Duncan also asked for the firing of Nancy Dacek, chairman of the Montgomery board, but Dacek said she would not quit.
Finally, Linda H. Lamone, administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, sent a letter to state attorney general J. Joseph Curran, Jr., asking for an analysis of what led up to Tuesday’s voting problems, according to a spokesman for Curran.
“Mr. Curran and several of his senior attorneys met both yesterday and today to discuss Tuesday’s election problems, and possible solutions. At this time, our office is still gathering information,” said Kevin J. Enright, a representative for the Attorney General, in an e-mail.
Enright said that they would respond to Lamone’s letter as early as tomorrow.
The legislative audit will focus primarily on process rather than expenditures but will not be blind to problems resulting from lack of funding, aides to Busch said.
While the auditing process can take months, the investigation requested by the two leaders, both Democrats, will be expedited in hopes of fixing procedural problems before the general election Nov. 7.
Both Montgomery County and Baltimore City kept polls open for an extra hour on Tuesday night and will be the primary focus of the investigation, according to Busch’s aides.
The election problems have already become an issue in the gubernatorial election.
Henry J. Fawell, spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, said that for the past year Ehrlich had warned that he did not have confidence in the electronic voting system and was “disappointed that the state election board did not heed warnings.”
Fawell blamed Lamone and the administration of Ehrlich’s predecessor, Democrat Parris N. Glendening, which pushed for purchase of the voting system.