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Confusion turns away voters

(Published May 8, 2000)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

D.C. election officials are looking into a report of irregularities in voting procedures at one Ward 6 polling place during the May 2 presidential primary.

Northeast Washington resident John Olinger, in a May 4 letter to The Common Denominator (see page 14), complained of being turned away from Precinct 81 at Miner Elementary School, 601 15th St. NE, 15 minutes after the polls opened. Poll workers there allegedly could not locate the Democratic Party primary ballots containing the name of Vice President Al Gore and D.C. residents seeking election as Gore’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention, Olinger wrote.

Olinger said the poll workers were unable to get an immediate response to their problem from the Board of Elections and Ethics before he left his polling place without voting and that his own telephone inquiry to the elections board office resulted in his transfer to a voicemail box and no response to the message he left.

Olinger said he eventually returned to his polling place and was allowed to vote after he learned from a friend who had voted at another precinct that the Democratic Party ballots were contained in a set of three ballots, with the ballot for candidate Lyndon LaRouche on top. He said the ballots at his polling place "had been there all along," but the poll workers apparently did not initially realize that the Gore ballots were under the LaRouche ballots.

"People were turned away for no reason other than the incompetence of the Board of Elections," Olinger wrote. "For all the talk of democracy in D.C., it is tough to make the case when those charged with running the election are so idle and feckless that they don’t care to do their job."

Alice P. Miller, executive director for the elections board, said the board has an extensive training and testing procedure for election day workers "to prevent election day mishaps."

"Assuming the veracity of Mr. Olinger’s statements, something went terribly amiss," she said in a written response.

At press time, officials were unable to verify that Olinger’s voicemail message had been received by Leslie Hatch, who trains election day workers for the board and was unavailable May 5 on leave.

Elections board spokesman Bill O’Field said a similar problem is known to have arisen in at least one other precinct on May 2 – Precinct 87 at Payne Elementary School, 305 15th St. SE, also in Ward 6 – "but it was taken care of immediately."

He blamed the confusion on local Democratic Party leaders’ plan that "required ballots to be produced this way" – as separate ballots for the two candidates and their delegate slates – for the party’s primary. O’Field said the LaRouche ballot was printed as the top ballot because LaRouche won the lottery for ballot position. Gore overwhelmingly won the D.C. Democratic Primary, receiving 17,510 votes from the 19,796 Democrats who went to the polls citywide.

"I can see the confusion, but not on the part of the poll workers," O’Field said.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator