13 September 2006

Decision 2006 (Primary Edition)

Primary day in Maryland yesterday...where to begin?

Our first experience with electronic voting was less than perfect (to say the least!), with two large jurisdictions (Baltimore City and Montgomery County) having to extend voting time at the polls. In Baltimore, the extention took place over the objections of the local Board of Elections -- WTF!?!? -- who wanted to close the polls at the regular time of 8 pm. It took an emergency court order to override them and extend to 9.

Although I had no problems, the stories I've heard just from people I know are enough to curl the hair: Someone showing up at the polls before 9 am only to be told, 'You've voted already;' voter's names not being on the rolls; some people being allowed to vote without showing proper ID; some complaints about how close together the machines were, so someone standing next to you -- or even standing in line waiting-- could see how you voted (but this last only in some areas of Baltimore City -- in the county apparently people had plenty of room...hmmmm...) ; poll workers who recieved book-training on the new machines but had never even touched one until election day! Heads are rolling because of this even as I type.....

I noted, during a run through on a machine -- and how is it that there were machines touring various branches of the library for voters to try, but none for the actual poll workers?-- that touching the screen for a candidate caused the candidate *below* the one I chose to be highlighted ("Oh, that happens sometimes," said the person showing off the machine. "You just press it again to clear it and try again") For me, however, the most frightening thing was the large DIEBOLD plastered across the top of the darned things as visions of Ohio 2004 danced in my head.

As for the results, a mixed bag: neither my friend Anthony McCarthy nor my neighbor Mary Washington, two black, openly gay, candidates for the state legislature, made it (Mary came very close -- 800 votes -- and was considering taking the election commission and Diebold to court because, in yet another glitch, when voters chose the 'large screen' format on the voting machines display, her name dropped off the screen and it was not very clear that one had to scroll down to see other candidates); Kweisi Mfume lost to Ben Cardin for the chance to go against the African American current Lt Governor and Republican toadie Michael Steele (who has been calling himself 'independent' and playing the race card like mad, wrapping himself in the legacy of Martin Luther King in a pre-primary mailing, for example); fellow Gilman graduate Stuart Simms was unsuccessful in his bid to become Attorney General -- while another Gilmanite (in the class behind me) John Sarbanes won the nomination for Ben Cardin's former House district, the long and winding (read: gerrymandered by our former governor) US House 3rd.

There's been much wailing and gnashing of teeth (in some quarters, but not here) because former Baltimore mayor, former Governor, current Comptroller William Donald Schaeffer lost to Peter Franchot ending his 50-year political career. Was it because, although a Democrat, he was the close ally of the Republican Governor Robert Erlich (and therefore this result bodes ill for *his* chances this November?), or was it because of his his weird personal attacks on another primary opponent, Janet Owens, calling her 'fat,' (talk about the pots calling kettles black!) and suggesting that she 'does everything her husband tells her'? Or perhaps it was his negative (I would say almost racist) comments after a run in with recent immigrants in a McDonalds, ending with his thoughts that 'people in this country need to speak English'? Or is it simply that 50 years in elected office is finally enough?

One interesting point in the primary has been the apparent shift in power from Baltimore City to the Washington suburbs (in particular Montgomery County). Montgomery really flexed its political muscle this time, voting machine problems or not, elevating Franchot and others to runs for statewide office in November. Some commentators see a dearth of 'new faces' in Baltimore City, while there are a wealth of up-and-comers in the DC area. All one hopes is that, whomever wins will be representative of all the parts of the state.

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