ANNAPOLIS – State elections administrator Linda H. Lamone took a grilling before the Board of Public Works Wednesday, but adamantly refused to assign blame for a series of mistakes and system malfunctions that led to confusion and chaos during last week’s primary election.
The hearing came on the heels of a series of similar inquiries to local election administrators around the state – one of whom resigned Wednesday – as outraged government officials tried to determine who caused the problems and correct errors before November’s general election.
Asked by the board to report corrective measures, Lamone referred to a poster-size “action plan” card that listed coordination with local election boards, election judge recruitment, voting system retraining, electronic system reviews, a full day of electronic poll book testing, double-checks of voter access cards and phone connections to local boards as seven focus areas.
She said she could not give more specific information until the jurisdictions where there were problems submitted their own action plans to her office later in the day.
“We have an election to go,” Lamone said. “Whatever has happened in the past right now is irrelevant. We need to move on.”
“That’s not a good enough answer for the voters,” Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich countered.
According to the Associated Press, the governor went so far as to suggest that the electronic polling books be abandoned before the Nov. 7 general election.
“I’m not sure we can afford another experiment with e-poll books at this time,” Ehrlich told the AP.
Meanwhile, last week’s primary election debacle claimed its first casualty as Baltimore City Election Director Gene M. Raynor resigned from his post, according to the Web site of The Baltimore Sun.
Raynor, who faced his own grilling from the Baltimore City Council Tuesday night, submitted his resignation after saying his authority was undermined by the five-member city election board.
When City Council President Sheila Dixon asked to grade his performance in the primary, Raynor said, “I would grade myself possibly a D. For deficient.”
At Wednesday’s Annapolis hearing, Lamone was far less willing to accept or assign blame. “I’m not here to point fingers,” Lamone said repeatedly during her roughly 70-minute appearance.
But Ehrlich, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp pressed for details about who was responsible for problems at the polls in Baltimore City and Montgomery, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties on the day of the Sept. 12 primary.
“I want to point a finger at somebody,” said Schaefer, who lost in the Democratic primary to Delegate Peter V. Franchot of Montgomery County. “Who in the hell messed things up?”
Lamone insisted the overall voting system is up to the task, arguing that a technical glitch in the electronic poll book system, communication breakdowns and a series of unforeseeable human errors grew into larger problems on Sept. 12. She said computer system glitches would be fixed and retested before the Nov. 7 general election.
Ehrlich, however, questioned why sufficient backup plans were not in place during the primary and suggested that election judges had not been sufficiently trained on the new electronic voting procedures.
“Many of the systems that we use were stressed, and unfortunately a few broke,” Lamone said. “Now our job is to fix them, and today I can tell you that we already are well on the way to doing just that.”
At one point, Ehrlich asked if the voting system failures rose to the level of a “material breach of contract” for Diebold Election Systems. The Ohio-based company secured a $106 million contract for the new statewide electronic voting system, according to state officials.
“We will be reviewing Diebold’s performance,” Lamone said. “What’s efficient right now is, we need to get things fixed.”
Schaefer led off the meeting by saying it’s easy to criticize a “fall guy” for government mistakes. But as Lamone testified, he grew bluntly combative about the election failures.
“In other words, this election’s all screwed up. This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard… Maybe I didn’t lose after all!” he said, evoking laughter from the crowd of more than 170 people crammed into the governor’s reception room at the State House. “It would be funny if it wasn’t such a serious matter.”
One critic of the Diebold system said it was inherently flawed and vulnerable to several forms of mechanical failure and voter fraud.
Aviel D. Rubin, a computer science professor at the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University, spoke after Lamone and cautioned against the use of any fully electronic voting process that does not create hard-copy backups of ballots that can be counted by hand. He advocated the use of signature cards in the upcoming general election and recommended that the electronic polling books be scrapped. “Saying that it was human error to not have a smart card is only part of the picture,” he said. “When you have a highly complex system with many different parts and it’s electronic, you run the risk of magnifying any small amount of human error into disastrous proportions.”