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D.C. Council wanted too much at once, says top election official

Three weeks after a Primary Day performance that earned it a barrage of criticism, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics delivered its own self-critique Wednesday afternoon.

The board's executive director, Rokey W. Suleman II, delivered an assessment of what worked, what didn't and what needs to be fixed at a lengthy board meeting.

Under fire for late poll openings and an excruciatingly slow release of results, Suleman argued, as he has before, that the agency's performance was more than adequate given the scope of the changes to the city's electoral process this year -- including the debut of early voting and same-day registration, as well as new machines.

Suleman, however, went farther than in previous statements and said that the D.C. Council loaded too many changes on the board at once.

"We do wish that some reforms had been delayed," he said, reading from a preliminary report. "While reform is a necessary and important thing, it does not follow that every reform should be implemented at once. ... We succeeded, but at great cost, and the election did not go nearly as smoothly as we would have wanted."

The board, he said, "is entitled to be proud of its performance."

Suleman will appear Friday at a D.C. Council hearing chaired by Ward 3 member Mary M. Cheh, who was the lead proponent of the many changes. Nearly two dozen witnesses are also expected to testify.

Suleman is likely to face questions about inadequate documentation and pollworker training -- which, in his analysis, was the root of the vast majority of the Primary Day problems. "In no case did the board find that a machine failed to work properly," he said today. "In every instance it was either pollworker error in opening and closing the equipment or difficulties in following instruction sheets provided by the board that contained an error."

Also, at the meeting today, civic activist and longtime election watcher Dorothy Brizill leveled pointed questions about the way that paper ballots and electronic voting cartridges were handled by board employees during the counting process. Suleman said Wednesday that at no time were the materials unsecured.

And then there's the whole vote-hacking incident -- see this post for more on the board's response to that.

The election did have unqualified -- or lightly qualified -- successes. Early voting, Suleman said, was "well received" by pretty much everyone, though, yes, more training could have been done.

Changes are already in store for the general election: More training is on the way, for one thing; Suleman said that general election precinct captains will be given a $140 bonus if they attend an all-day training class and meet performance targets. And while the board had originally intended to use new electronic pollbooks for the general election, they've decided to stick with paper for now because, again, of training issues.

And then there's the issue of the slow vote count. Suleman explained that on primary night, the reports created by the tabulation server were not easily converted to a format that could be uploaded to the board's Web site.

Suleman says the process has been "significantly" improved for Nov. 2: "The board will continue to prioritize accuracy over speed. However, the process of ensuring accuracy will take less time now that board personnel have experience with the process."

By Mike DeBonis  | October 6, 2010; 10:04 PM ET
Categories:  DCision 2010, The District  
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Next: DeMorning DeBonis: Oct. 7, 2010

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