Clarke wants police count of votes to return Delay in tabulating results in Baltimore primary cited


City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, apparently concerned by a two-day delay in the unofficial vote count for the Sept. 6 primary election in Baltimore, wants the Baltimore Police Department to resume its traditional role of providing the city with a same-night unofficial vote count.

Mrs. Clarke plans to introduce a resolution at tonight's council meeting commending the board for a good effort during the primary but asking that police officials handle the tally until problems that contributed to this year's slow count can be resolved.

But Baltimore police, city and state election officials don't seem particularly interested in restoring police oversight of the results.

"We're the only police department in the country that I know of that counts election votes," said police spokesman Dennis S. Hill. "We would not be deeply disappointed if we did not have to count election votes."

"The responsibility of the election-night count should be the board of election's responsibility," said Barbara E. Jackson, administrator of the Baltimore Election Board. "If the Police Department wants to do it, I have no qualms with that. But I think the board of elections can do as good a job as the police."

In past elections, police officers, using voting machine results, provided unofficial election results within hours of the polls closing.

But the Election Board, which took over the responsibility of providing the early tally this year, took two days to fully count the votes for all 432 precincts.

For politicians involved in close races, the suspense was unbearable.

Ms. Jackson blamed inadequate staffing, poorly trained election judges and a new and unfamiliar computerized tally system for slowing efforts to complete the count.

She said that some tally sheets contained illegible numbers and that her refusal to allow officials to guess -- a practice that sped police tallies in the past -- further slowed her count.

Nevertheless, one influential councilman said that he shares the council president's concerns over how the count was handled.

"With a very important election coming up next year, we don't want to see a repeat performance," said Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st. "In all the elections I've been involved in, I have never waited so long after an election day to receive [the results]."

Mrs. Clarke was out of town yesterday and could not be reached, an aide said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke wants to give the board another chance. "He thinks we ought to take a wait-and-see attitude and see how the elections board does in the general election," a Schmoke aide said.

The Police Department has provided early vote tallies in Baltimore elections since the 1800s, a time when mobs often tried to intimidate election judges, according to state election chief Gene M. Raynor.

In 1970, election officials experimented with an independent auditor to provide early returns. But the auditor botched the job, Mr. Raynor said, and a group of state senators insisted that police resume their election role.

Mr. Raynor said that, given the fact that a new tally system was being used, the counting went as smoothly as could be expected.

"For a first time, that was terrific what they did," Mr. Raynor said. "By November, you'll see a much better-organized job."

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