The Mess in Montgomery

Those responsible for the failure to prepare polling stations must be held accountable.

UNTOLD NUMBERS of people were turned away from polling places yesterday in Montgomery County. The official responsible for their disenfranchisement called it “a clerical error.” We call it gross incompetence that strikes at the very heart of our government. More than apologies are in order.

Election officials in Maryland’s largest and richest jurisdiction, one that prides itself on a reputation for good service, forgot to deliver the computer cards that operate the voting machines. Confusion reigned. Some people were told they couldn’t vote and should come back later. Others were given paper provisional ballots, but many precincts ran out of the forms. Communication was abysmal. Many voters who could not make a return trip were frustrated — as were candidates who feared that the debacle could well make the difference in a close race. With important local, state and federal offices at stake, some were questioning the legitimacy of the election even before the polls closed.

The county Board of Elections has one essential job — to ensure fair elections — and yesterday that job wasn’t done. The system needs to be held to account. Board President Nancy H. Dacek has promised an investigation, but her standing has been so damaged that she must consider whether her continuance in office serves the public good. Election Director Margaret Jurgensen is paid $113,033 a year to run day-to-day operations; part of that must be telling the public exactly who and what went wrong and what the consequences and remedies are.

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