Election officials from Montgomery County are under investigation following mistakes at several county polls last November.
The investigation, led by state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, was authorized by the State Board of Elections at a meeting on Jan. 31, which the county’s election officials traveled to Richmond to attend.
“At this point, understanding that the state board was stepping down after that meeting, we felt there were too many unanswered questions,” said State Board of Elections Secretary Nancy Rodrigues, whose term ended Tuesday.
The officials involved in the investigation are Montgomery County Registrar Randy Wertz and the county’s entire electoral board — Cynthia Chappelka, Helen Young and Dean Dowdy.
According to Rodrigues, there are several possible outcomes of this investigation, depending on the findings of the attorney general’s office.
“First, they could do nothing,” Rodrigues said. “Or they could ask for their resignations.
They could also go to court to remove the electoral board, or they could ask the electoral board to remove the registrar.”Wertz’s term as registrar will end June 30, and the county electoral board is scheduled to make a decision this April about whether to reappoint him.
The investigation is, in part, a result of the work of Terry Ellen Carter, a Christiansburg local who has been very outspoken about the polling mistakes.
Problems at the polls began early on the morning of Election Day 2010, when electronic poll books malfunctioned at seven of the polling locations in the county. Poll books are simply lists of who is registered in each precinct, allowing workers to verify that voters are actually voting in the correct precinct. The 2010 election was to be the first year that Montgomery County would use entirely electronic poll books.
However, when workers in some precincts could not access the electronic poll books, voters were allowed to cast electronic ballots even though they had not been verified against the poll books.
Had workers been prepared with backup provisional paper ballots, Carter said, the ballots could have been set aside and verified later. However, electronic ballots are anonymous and cannot be sorted through once they are cast.
The mistakes, Carter said, jeopardized all the votes cast at those polling locations. Carter initially contacted the Montgomery County Electoral Board with complaints about Wertz, but was told that nothing was wrong.
“They said he’s doing a great job,” Carter said. “I felt that they didn’t care, and it defies explanation.”
Next Carter wrote to the State Board of Elections, which requested the county officials attend Monday’s meeting.
After Tuesday’s meeting, the state board members stepped down from their positions, having met the end of their terms. Gov. Bob McDonnell appointed Donald Palmer, who had previously served as Florida’s director of elections, to replace Rodrigues.
“The only way I would still have a part in the issue is if the board would pursue any legal action,” Rodrigues said. “I might be called as a witness.”
Carter said she is impressed with the meeting’s outcome.
“They took action, which I hadn’t expected. I truly expected nothing,” Carter said. “The first step in solving a problem is to acknowledge that it exists.”
It is unclear how long the attorney general’s investigation will last, although Carter said she hopes it will be completed well before the 2011 elections in November.
“I believe that the attorney general’s office will move quickly on it,” Rodrigues said.