Agonizing five-day wait for Wynn and Edwards

Voters in the 4th District of Maryland may not have an official Democratic nominee for their House seat for days because of problems with voting machines and because of the tight primary contest between the incumbent and his challenger.

According to a staff member at the Maryland Board of Elections, the provisional ballots used in some precincts could take up to a week to count.

Rep. Al Wynn (D-Md.) was leading Maryland attorney Donna Edwards at press time by fewer than 3,000 votes with 96 percent of the precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.

The problem with the machines arose on Tuesday morning, when many poll workers found themselves without the “smart cards” containing voter information required to activate the voting machines used in Maryland. The delay caused officials to keep the polls open for an extra hour in Baltimore and Montgomery County.

Despite these difficulties, neither campaign would say yesterday whether they would challenge the result of the election if they lose.

“There are a lot of provisional ballots up in Montgomery County that have not been counted,” said Edwards press secretary Dan Weber.

He indicated that although he was not sure when the official results would be released, he had heard from campaign lawyers that they might not know until Monday, 5 days later than expected.

Wynn’s campaign would not comment about when they expected to know the results of the election.

Maryland election law demands that candidates must challenge the outcome of an election, if at all, within three days of the results being certified.

But according to Aviel Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of Brave New Ballot: The Battle to Safeguard Democracy in the Age of Electronic Voting, the losing candidate could do little to contest the results because of the way they are tallied by Maryland’s electronic voting machines.

“In Maryland there is nothing you can do because of the electronic voting machines,” he said. He explained that although provisional ballots can be recounted, they are a small percentage of the total number of votes cast, and the rest are recorded only electronically without a paper trail.

Rubin, who spent the day at the polls as a judge Tuesday said although the election was not the “disaster” they experienced in other parts of the state, he indicated that the problems would influence the election.

He explained that as the electronic poll books, where voters signed in, crashed and the lines began to lengthen, many people left and did not come back.

The Wynn-Edwards race “is a good example of why you need a paper trail, ” he said.

This is the first major primary challenge for Wynn who was elected in 1992, when he secured 75 percent of the vote. In 2004, he easily defeated his primary challenger, George McDermott, by a margin of 84 percent to 16 percent.

McDermott, who also waged a campaign this year, had 4 percent of the vote as of press time.

Edwards has criticized Wynn on his voting record, especially for his vote in favor of the Iraq war and against campaign finance reform.

Edwards raised significantly less money than Wynn. Her campaign war chest contained $260,537 as of August.  Wynn raised  $570,166, according to Political Money Line, which tracks campaign fundraising.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Michael Moshe Starkman.