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After errors in primary election, civic groups recruiting citizen poll watchers

"The irregularities haven't gone away." Groups recruiting poll watchers for general election.

Some 1,650 ballots were mishandled in Baltimore's primary election, and watchdog groups are calling for volunteer poll watchers to ensure the mistakes are not repeated.

Voters Organized for the Integrity of City Elections, a group born from the primary errors, called Tuesday morning for volunteers throughout Baltimore and beyond.

"We want to work with election judges," organizer Hassan Giordano said, "to make sure their job is smooth and goes off without a hitch."

Giordano said about 60 people have volunteered from VOICE, Maryland 20-20 Watch and the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. But he said more volunteers are needed.

He hopes to recruit 100 people to monitor the busiest polling places.

"It's not every location that has a problem," he said. "It's the larger ones we've seen with multiple precincts."

Volunteers will attend two-hour training sessions on the evenings of Oct. 25 and Nov. 3 at Birdland Sports Bar & Grill on Belair Road. To participate, call: 410-863-8028.

VOICE has also requested the Department of Justice to supply federal monitors for the general election Nov. 8. Organizers have not heard back from the department, Giordano said. The announcement of federal monitors typically comes a few days before the election.

For the Nov. 6, 2012 general election, the Department of Justice dispatched monitors to 51 jurisdictions in 23 states, the department said in a news release at the time. Maryland was not among the states monitored then. Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the department has dispatched observers and monitors to safeguard the voting process.

VOICE organizers are also working to establish a hotline for voters to report problems.

"The irregularities haven't gone away," Giordano said. "We suspect with even more voters coming out in the November election that if the proper training hasn't been put in place we'll see even more irregularities."

The call for volunteers comes after a federal judge last week tossed a lawsuit — filed by VOICE — that sought a redo of the April primary.

U.S. District Judge James Bredar said the plaintiffs had unreasonably delayed filing and serving the lawsuit to the defendants, the city and state elections boards.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on June 1, weeks after the April primary election and after a deadline to file such a complaint in state court. The plaintiffs also did not serve the defendants until six weeks after the lawsuit was filed, the judge said.

"Plaintiffs displayed no urgency at all in their prosecution of this suit," Bredar wrote in his dismissal last week. Therefore, he added, the primary results "will not be disturbed."

VOICE held a news conference Tuesday to address the dismissal. Attorney J. Wyndal Gordon said they delayed filing the lawsuit to amass support.

"We wanted to leave the door open for anyone to contribute resources to this case," he said. "We wanted to leave the door open as long as we could."

Gordon said they are considering bringing their suit in state court.

The judge Bredar wrote, "To the extent that the complaint may be read to allege violations of Maryland state election laws, the Court, having ruled adversely to Plaintiffs on all of their federal claims, declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state claims."

The lawsuit claimed voting was suppressed at polling places that opened late. It also alleged that state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, winner of the Democratic primary for mayor, ran a "vote-buying scheme" targeting minority voters, who were bused to early-voting centers and offered food after applying for jobs with Pugh's campaign.

tprudente@baltsun.com

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