Showing posts with label 2009 elections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2009 elections. Show all posts

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Changes Made In Pocomoke Election Laws

POCOMOKE CITY -- After municipal elections in 2009 led to an investigation by the State's Attorney's Office, the Pocomoke mayor and City Council set out to fill gaps in and make changes to their election laws. With a second city election under the new rules slated for this April, a review of the new election code shows some recommended changes were put in writing, while other reforms rely on city workers remembering new instructions passed down in talks and training.

Resolution 432, passed before the 2010 elections took place, changed who maintains the list of registered voters, handing over that responsibility to the Worcester County Board of Elections. The only other change made in writing allows voters to download absentee ballot applications online.

Town Manager Russell Blake said other changes suggested by the state's attorney report have been adopted in practice, even if they are not specifically called for in the new code.

"As I recall, the state's attorney report was a recommendation, and all recommendations basically have been followed in writing or in practice," Blake said. The changes not committed to code, he said, are still known to the city workers who run the elections.

Distinguishing marks

After candidate Stephanie Burke alleged her opponents manipulated the absentee voting process to win in 2009, then-State's Attorney Joel Todd conducted an investigation and issued a report. No criminal charges were filed, and Todd found no evidence that candidates or city workers engaged in fraud.

Still, the report said the city did not maintain an accurate list of absentee voters and noted that the way city workers marked each absentee ballot with a number allowed his investigators to determine which absentee voters cast which ballots, violating the principle of the secret ballot.

"Clearly, the ballot number enables a party to identify not only who the voter was, but how the voter voted," Todd wrote. "If a voter can be identified and interviewed for investigative purposes, it is possible that they could be identified and interviewed for any other legitimate or nefarious purpose.

Pocomoke's election code at the time said if there are any distinguishing marks on a ballot, then that ballot can be thrown out; thus, the report noted, the town's practice of numbering the ballots conflicted with its own code.

"If the town employees and volunteers working for the Board of Elections supervisors need additional training, and it seems apparent that they do, then that training must be provided," Todd's report read.

Resolution 432, the new election code, also states any distinguishing marks can discredit a ballot. The updated resolution does not specifically instruct election workers to write ballot numbers on outer envelopes and to not write numbers on the ballots themselves -- the change in practice Todd urged.

"The recommendation about not numbering ballots was incidental," Blake said in an interview. In the 2010 election, he said, Pocomoke conducted the election the way the report suggested: Ballot numbers were placed on the envelopes, not the ballots.

Carol Justice, the city clerk, said she was not aware individual ballots should not be marked with numbers, as had happened in 2009. She said she had not received formal election law training after 2009. Mark Tilghman, the attorney who began representing Pocomoke City in 2008, declined to be interviewed.

Jim Peck, director of research and information management for the Maryland Municipal League, said the sanctity of the ballot box is important in all elections.

"In general, there are broad efforts made to ensure when you vote it's between you and the voting booth," Peck said. The practice of numbering each ballot, he said, is "relatively unusual."