Officials Fear Counting Md.
Ballots Could Take Days
By Megha Rajagopalan
Capital News Service
Friday, Nov. 3, 2006
GLEN BURNIE, Md. – Planning to stay up late on election night to
see if your candidate won? You might want to brew a few extra
pots of coffee — enough even to last a few days.
What with an unusually large number of absentee ballots to
count, tight races at the top of the ticket, and suspect voting
machines, politicians and elections officials alike are warning
that Tuesday night may not bring the definitive results — and
the respite from politics — that voters had been anticipating.
"Given the number of absentee ballots, it's unlikely that
we'll know the results of the election Tuesday night, but it's
not impossible," said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich. "In close races,
like some in the General Assembly, you may not know the results
Ehrlich made his prediction while he and his wife cast
absentee ballots at the Anne Arundel County board of elections
office. The governor has been urging Marylanders to cast
absentee ballots instead of going to the polls because he
doesn't trust the state's new electronic voting system.
Top candidates from the other party have been saying much the
same thing, including Ehrlich's Democratic opponent, Baltimore
Mayor Martin O'Malley. Both candidates say they fear a repeat of
the mess on the Sept. 14 primary, when both computer and human
errors caused polls to stay open an hour longer in some places
and the results of one or two elections to be delayed by as much
as a week.
There have been 175,000 requests for absentee ballots, and
voting officials expect they will take days to count. Thus in
contests where absentee ballots are crucial to the outcome,
final results will take that much longer.
To make matters worse, many predict that the bad experience
in the primary and the probability of close races make it more
likely that candidates will contest election results in court.
It isn't unlike another Maryland election 12 years ago,
in which Democrat Parris N. Glendening defeated his Republican
opponent, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, by less than 6,000 votes. It took
two weeks to determine the winner of that tight race, and even
after the winner was declared, a legal battle over charges of
fraud dragged on until days before Glendening's inauguration in
"It was absolutely agonizing," Glendening recalled. "I would
not wish that on anyone in the world."
This time around, elections officials are predicting things
may be even worse.
"1994 was a piece of cake compared to what this will be,"
said Barbara Fisher, director of the Anne Arundel County Board
Byron L. Warnken, who worked on Sauerbrey's legal team in
1994, said elections have to be extremely close - with the
candidates a small fraction of a percentage point apart in votes
- to prove that fraud pushed the results one way or the other.
But this year, candidates in a close election could challenge
results, arguing that an imperfect system swung them the wrong
way, said Warnken, a law professor at the University of
"In 1994, although there were irregularities, they weren't
compounded by 'the system is broke,'" Warnken said.
Glendening issued a similar warning. "Expect challenges," he
Both Ehrlich and O'Malley have assembled legal teams to
prepare for challenges to the results. The two candidates are
now neck in neck, with a recent Baltimore Sun poll putting them
only a point apart.
Severn Miller, general counsel for Ehrlich's reelection
campaign, said the governor's legal team aims to make sure the
election is "run fairly and by the book."
While the gubernatorial candidates are preparing for possible
legal battles, county elections officials are bracing themselves
for long hours counting a flood of absentee ballots.
"We have over 30,000 [absentee ballot requests] alone in our
county," said Jacqueline McDaniel, director of the Baltimore
County board of elections. "There's an unusual amount for every
county in the state of Maryland-- very much so. The election
could hinge on absentee ballots."
Board of election workers in each county must open each
absentee ballot by hand, starting the Thursday after the
election. State law mandates that each ballot must be read by a
Democrat and a Republican, so the workers operate in teams of
After that, the counts have to be approved by the state
board. After all absentee ballots are counted, the county boards
must count provisional ballots, and after that, absentee ballots
that arrived after Election Day must be counted.
"In the best of times, the system is not equipped to handle
this many absentee ballots," Glendening said.
Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O'Malley, said he is
optimistic that the margin of votes between the two candidates
will be large enough that most absentee ballots will not need to
be counted to determine a winner.
"None of the polls really matter," he said. "Right now, it's
all about turn-out. It's about each party getting their base of
support out to vote on election day."
Candidates say they can't speculate on how long it will take
to know the election's victors. But they say they are prepared
for the worst.
"You're going to see people walking around
Annapolis with the jitters, going in and out of coffee shops," Glendening predicted. "For a lot of political junkies, there's a
long, long week ahead."
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