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The Nose

Shutout

Posted 11/13/2002

After so much controversy in the past couple of years about the correct way to collect and audit voting, the Nose was surprised to find that some areas of Baltimore City couldn't even figure out how to get voters into their polling places on Election Day, never mind how to make sure their ballots were counted. When the Nose went to vote at Hampden Elementary School, for example, we almost couldn't get in. The small paper signs directing people to the entrances had conflicting arrows that made it unclear which set of double doors was for which precinct. The contradictory signs gave the distinct impression that voters should burrow through the gymnasium wall in order to get to the voting booths.The larger problem, however, was that all three doors providing access to the voting area were closed. The doors had no exterior handles (they could only be opened from the inside), so a small but disgruntled group of suddenly disenfranchised voters stood outside with the Nose on this blustery November afternoon, waiting for someone to exit the building in order to get in.

Interestingly, the polling place's election judges--who receive $125-$150 for a 15-hour work day and must take a class on setting up and working an election--seemed unconcerned. One of the women handing out voting cards assured us that we were not locked in the building and that we would be able to leave through the door. While we appreciated not being stuck in Hampden Elementary's gym, we were still concerned about other voters who couldn't enter the building. Finally, one of the officials remedied the situation by placing a smashed orange traffic cone in one of the doors to prop it open.

When Baltimore City Election Director Barbara Jackson was told about the Hampden Elementary voting situation, she was stunned.

"That's not safe," she gasped when we described the orange cone wedged in the door. "I swear to you, this is the first time I've heard of this. I'm surprised none of the voters called to report this." Jackson promised to address the issue at an upcoming meeting between the city Board of Elections, the mayor's office, the Mayor's Commission on Disabilities, and representatives from all city voting facilities.

They will have a few things to discuss, beside the Hampden situation: On Election Day, despite requests from the Board of Elections, Chinquapin Middle School in Govans was not wheelchair-accessible and Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary in Madison Park had no heat. "That is unacceptable," Jackson says.

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