Knowing he would be away, Paul L. Spadin of Fulton carefully made out an absentee ballot and mailed it Sept. 6 - four days before the primary election. That's why he was shocked Saturday when he received a letter from the Howard County Election Board telling him his ballot was not counted because it arrived too late.
"I was irritated that I followed all the rules and I mailed it early and it didn't get here," Spadin said. His ballot arrived Sept. 13, two days after the deadline.
Now Spadin, 66, is going to Circuit Court to seek redress as the county election board tries to figure out - before the Nov. 5 general election - what went wrong with his and about two dozen other absentee ballots that took up to nine days to get from various Howard County locations to the board's offices.
The bar code printed by Elections System & Software Inc. - a ballot preparation company that serves several Maryland counties - on the bottom of some ballot return envelopes apparently sent some absentee votes to the Anne Arundel County Election Board, causing a delay, postal officials told Howard's board at a meeting Monday.
Gordon P. Seabury Jr., marketing manager for the Baltimore District, said the bar-coded mail is read by machines that sort 1.3 million pieces of mail each night. If it has the wrong bar code, the envelope is delivered to the wrong address, unless a worker catches the error visually. Seabury agreed to have postal employees inspect the board's bar code before the November election.
Howard voters sent in 873 absentee ballots, and only about 25 had delayed returns, but board members said it was disturbing.
"If we have one voter not counted, then we've got a problem," said James E. Poole, an election board member.
That concern led Roland L. Howard, election board president, to block elimination of several late-arriving absentee ballots during the counting Sept. 13 - a tense session during which he suffered a heart attack. He remained in critical condition yesterday at Howard County General Hospital.
Several other voters told the board Monday about problems, though none would have changed an election result.
Janet Oken, a Columbia resident involved in Mary Kay Sigaty's unsuccessful County Council campaign, said she was denied her right to vote in the Democratic primary because of an ill-informed board employee.
She changed her party affiliation from independent to Democrat on June 17, but when she got her voter's card in the mail, she was still listed as independent, she said. A board employee mistakenly told her she had acted too late. Board attorney Mary Reese read the law during the meeting Monday; Oken switched on the final day to be eligible to vote in the primary.
"I was annoyed I was misinformed. I did everything according to the law," she told board Administrator Robert Antonetti and members.
Terry Chaconas, another Sigaty supporter, gave the board a letter from a woman who also tried to change her party affiliation to Democrat but was denied. When she went to vote, the poll judge found her name among the independents. Later, she learned her name was on both lists - and her first name was misspelled on the Democratic one.
Chaconas said her only motive was to inform the board about the problems.
"We don't have enough complaints to come up with 38 votes. We're not here working on a campaign," she said, referring to Sigaty's 36-vote loss to Ken Ulman. But she wanted the board to know about voting problems, she said.