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Neighborhoodsby Fern Shen4:33 pmNov 8, 20110

Officials confirm machine problems hampered write-in voting in 13th District

Voting machine glitch prevents some voters from writing-in their candidate; election officials downplay problem.

Above: This Warren Branch flier was on a table at the room where voting was taking place this morning at Tench Tilghman Elementary Middle School. Pollworkers said a voter put it there.

A volunteer for 13th District city council write-in candidate Shannon Sneed says problems with voting machines – and the unwillingness of staff to help voters – caused eight to 10 people who came to a polling place in East Baltimore to leave without voting this morning.

“There was some technician they needed to get to fix the problem, but they couldn’t find him,” said Renold B. Smith, a retired U.S. Postal Service manager who was volunteering for Sneed.

Smith, who said he had been at Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School since before the polls opened, said he tried helping one woman who was particularly concerned about the problem. He said she told him the machine “just wouldn’t let her do a write-in.”

“She said she works at Hopkins and would have to leave to get to work,” Smith said. “She told them she might come back at lunch.”

Write-in voting is an issue of special concern at 13th District polling places because political newcomer Sneed has been mounting a vigorous write-in campaign there, after coming just 43 votes shy of beating incumbent Warren Branch.

The election officials at the station confirmed that there had been a problem, but denied it involved more than one person.

“It was one lady and she wasn’t understanding how to do it,” said Sharon Butler, the election judge in charge. Asked why they didn’t help her, Butler said, “It’s not our job to help her vote. We can’t stand next to her. We might see something.”

Butler said the problem with the machine “has been all taken care of,” but wouldn’t elaborate. “We have that woman’s name who said she was going to come back.”

“You’d Know Not to Ask Those Questions in Public”

Volunteer Smith pointed out the election worker, with a name tag that said “Edward,” who he approached at the polling place (precinct 7, ward 3) earlier in the morning when the problem arose.

“That’s the one that went to find the technician,” Smith said. “Edward,” who declined to give The Brew his last name, confirmed some of the story.

“I was asked to find a technician, but I can’t say whether it was in relation to this case you’re talking about,” he said, later angrily asking a reporter about her background and how long she had been in the news business.

 Renold Smith says people left an East Baltimore polling place without oting because of a voting machine that wouldn't let them write-in a candidate's name. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Renold Smith says some voters couldn't vote at an East Baltimore polling place today because a voting machine wouldn't let them write-in a candidate's name. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“If you’d been a reporter that long,” Edward said, “you’d know not to ask those questions in public like that.”

Election officials brushed off another irregularity – campaign material left at a polling place – that was discovered by The Brew at the Tench Tilghman polling station.

On a table in the room where voters vote there was a pamphlet touting incumbent Branch. It was impossible to know how long it had been there.

When confronted about the flier, Butler pointed to a voter and said, “That lady brought that in just now.”

The voter paused a long time before answering a reporter’s question, with all eyes in the room on her, but finally said, “yes,” she brought it in.

Kimberly Wiggins, volunteer coordinator for the Sneed campaign, said she questioned officials at Tench Tilghman about the problems and also was told only one person had experienced difficulty voting. She said the campaign is still investigating the report.

When Butler was interviewed earlier in the day, she and fellow pollworkers confirmed what others have been saying across the city – voting has been extremely light. At that point, she said, there had been about 62 voters, and 35 of them had been write-ins.

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