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Prince George's readies for Tuesday's balloting

Miranda Spivack

Prince George's officials are girding for a busy day Tuesday, when voters in the county's 223 precincts will choose a new county executive, county council, sheriff, state's attorney, school board and General Assembly representatives, and fill down-ticket local posts.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The county, where nearly 15,000 residents already cast ballots in Maryland's first-ever early voting this month, could see turnout top the 32 percent in the last nonpresidential primaries, in 2006. That year, 116,000 ballots were counted in the heavily Democratic county, where there are about 400,000 registered Democrats, about 100,000 more than in neighboring Montgomery County.

Among the races expected to attract substantial voter interest is the contest to succeed County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), barred by term limits from seeking a third term. The Democratic candidates are former delegate Rushern Baker, County Council member Sam Dean, Sheriff Michael Jackson, Del. Gerron Levi and businessman Henry Turner.

Whatever the turnout, Tuesday's primaries are expected to serve as the de facto general election in local races because of the high Democratic registration.

On Monday, county election officials were putting the final packets together for each polling place, where about 3,000 election judges will check in voters, provide them with electronic cards that will display their ballots and try to ensure that the final tallies are sent quickly by modem after the polls close.

"We are in pretty good shape with election judges," said Deputy Elections Administrator Daneen Banks. She said the elections board has recruited enough backup judges if some should be unable to show up as planned.

The elections office also has set up a new system that will designate some to act as "closing judges," whose tasks will involve ensuring that the results are sent quickly and that the hard data to verify the electronic results is speedily delivered to election headquarters in Upper Marlboro, should backup data be needed.

Banks said the new system is designed to avoid some of the delays in delivering the voting machines that the county experienced in 2006.

Among the unknowns for election officials -- besides the weather, which is supposed to be pleasant -- is whether Maryland's touch-screen voting machines, similar to ATMs, will perform as well as they hope.

Four years ago, some of the machines failed, in some cases because of human error and in others because of mechanical problems.

While the balloting has since been smoother in Maryland, precinct judges in Montgomery and Prince George's reported various machine-related problems in the September 2006 primary, including computers that misidentified the party affiliations of voters, electronic voter registration lists that froze and voting-machine memory cards whose contents could not be electronically transmitted. The electronic voter lists, or "e-poll books," were used for the first time in Maryland in that primary.

The touch-screen machines will be used again Tuesday; officials say they have ironed out the problems. State elections officials have delayed purchasing the more fail-safe optical scan system that lawmakers in Annapolis recommended, saying that for now, they can't afford it.

Banks said she wasn't too concerned about the potential for machine failure. "I think the voters are used to the machines," she said.

When the Tuesday count is complete, elections officials will reconvene Thursday to tally absentee and provisional ballots. Both are paper ballots; the provisionals are used when a voter's name does not appear on the rolls or there is some other problem. Sometimes voters have moved but show up at their former polling places, only to find they are not on the list, Banks said. They can still vote and can correct any problems with their addresses, she said.

Banks said officials are optimistic that voting will be smooth. "We don't expect any problems. We don't expect any bad weather, we don't expect any power outages."

By Miranda Spivack  |  September 13, 2010; 1:17 PM ET
Categories:  !Elections , 2010 Elections , Miranda Spivack , Prince George's County  
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