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  April 13, 2016

Pocomoke Officials Tight Lipped on Plans for New Election

As news breaks the city will hold a new, open election for the 1st District council seat, we asked city officials what went wrong with the first vote
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TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: Before the Pocomoke City Council convened to ponder the uncertain outcome of the election for the 1st District council seat, Mayor Bruce Morrison left his seat to confirm the election of the city’s only black official, Diane Downing.

BRUCE MORRISON: --according to the Constitution--

DIANE DOWNING: --according to the Constitution--

MORRISON: --and the laws of this state.

DOWNING: --and the laws of this state.

MORRISON: Congratulations.

GRAHAM: But shortly after Downing took the oath of office, the council’s attention turned to the city’s 1st District and a less happy scenario. That’s because the results of the race between incumbent George Tasker and candidate Sheila Nelson remain in limbo since the fateful evening when this machine malfunctioned. Election officials offered few details.

SPEAKER: We have a discrepancy in our counting, so the board doesn’t feel comfortable signing off on the election.

STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: What’s the source of the discrepancy?

SPEAKER: It’s just a discrepancy in the counting, that’s all I’m going to say right now.

GRAHAM: But the passage of time has done little to shed light on why election officials were unable to approve a winner, and what exactly went wrong. And even more important, what will happen next. The ACLU has called for a new election, but city officials have been tight-lipped; a lack of clarity and transparency which continued when the election board was summoned to address the council Monday.

JOHN HAYNIE: Part of this meeting tonight we met, we discussed at length, the issues before us. And it is our hope, you know, the next few days when we have some additional information that will enable us to make a final decision. [Inaud.] Any questions?

GRAHAM: Only when the meeting was nearly over did election board president John Haynie offer a hint of what might be hampering the town’s ability to accurately count votes.

SPEAKER: Considering budget items--all jokes aside--might consider a voting system.

HAYNIE: Thank you, sir.

GRAHAM: But that was the extent of his public comments. After the meeting adjourned he quickly left council chambers, refusing to talk to the Real News. Some Pocomoke officials did want to talk. Councilman Tasker took issue with the stalemate that has left his political future in limbo.

GEORGE TASKER: They should have been here tonight and give us the decision tonight, is what I thought.

JANIS: Do you think they should redo the election? Or do you think they should stick with whatever they have? Or what do you think?

TASKER: I’m iffy on that. I really don’t--one way could be an advantage, and one way could be a disadvantage. So I don’t know. Whatever they want to do.

JANIS: Well, I mean, [inaud.] you don’t know what happened, right?

TASKER: Right. I won. I won. I won.

JANIS: Okay, you--. You won?

TASKER: According to our, according to our charter, I won. It’s what it says in there. The man with the most votes or the person with the most votes wins. I won with 15 votes.

JANIS: [Who told you that?]

TASKER: Who told me that?

JANIS: Yeah.

TASKER: It’s easy to figure out. We have 132 voters. We were missing 5. Add the two together, I had 68, plus I had six votes that were--. The ballots, [inaud.] when they come in. I’m a little--.

JANIS: Absentee ballots.

TASKER: Absentee, there, you go. I’m a little [puzzled] right now. But anyway--.

JANIS: Mayor Bruce Morrison referred our questions to the same seemingly-reticent election board, arguing he had little to do with the process.

MORRISON: I don’t know. I’ve got to wait for the election board to come back and tell me what they want to do. But I say, I have still, I have nothing in the charter that allows me to do anything. I can’t, I mean, that’s--. We gotta get--this has never happened.

GRAHAM: An assertion belied both by his presence and participation in a closed-door meeting with the election board last Tuesday, and even his abrupt shutdown of questioning by the press.

MORRISON: We, we’ve no questions, nothing. We ask to clear the room, please.

JANIS: But Mayor, this is an election.

MORRISON: I know it. We’ll give you an answer.

JANIS: When?

MORRISON: Tomorrow.

GRAHAM: Outside City Hall, a Tasker supporter named Eric Underhill told us a new election wasn’t necessary.

ERIC UNDERHILL: They said it was just 5 votes that were [questioning], and that didn’t really matter in the big scheme of things. You know, 5 or 50, if you still won by however--. One. You still won by 1.

GRAHAM: But a newly-appointed Councilwoman Downing says the lack of detail was still troubling.

JANIS: Do you feel like they gave enough information about what happened with the election, in terms of what went on?

DOWNING: No, because I was actually expecting them to give us some concrete information, whether or not they were going to hold a reelection of the 132 or everybody in the district. So I was a little taken aback. You know, other than that, I don’t--. You know.

JANIS: But if they announced--and has the city told you anything at all? I mean, has the election board said anything to the elected officials about what happened and why the election, why they were unclear about the results?

DOWNING: No. I don’t know anything.

GRAHAM: Information that may be days away as the people of Pocomoke wait for information on the seemingly-opaque workings of democracy inside the friendliest town on the Eastern Shore.

This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Pocomoke City, Maryland.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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