Category Archives: early voting

MoCo Board of Elections Responds to 7S Report on Early Voting Problems

The following was sent to 7S by Marjorie M. Roher, Public Information Officer of the Montgomery County Board of Elections:

Regarding “A Critical Error in Early Voting

The Montgomery County Board of Elections would like to take this opportunity to address the concern raised in “A Critical Error in Early Voting.”    Mr. Pagnucco’s description of the process that occurs in an early voting center is correct, and the Board appreciates his acknowledgement that the mistakes were honest.

Board staff learned of similar occurrences sporadically in several of the Early Voting Centers.  In each case brought to our attention, the voter received the correct ballot prior to scanning and was able to cast his or her vote in the appropriate congressional race.  The Election Director immediately contacted each Early Voting Center Manager to reinforce the need for accuracy in ballot distribution, instructed that Check-in Judges be reminded to circle the ballot style number on the Voter Authority Card (VAC) to make it easier to see, and Ballot Judges be reminded to double check the ballot style number on the VAC and ensure that they were issuing the correct ballot to each voter.  The design of the ballot issuance tables at each Early Voting Center was reviewed to ensure that the possibility of co-mingling ballot styles was eliminated.  Finally, a copy of The Seventh State blog was sent to each Early Voting Election Judge so that they might better understand the perception of the public when these types of errors occur.

All of these measures will assist in keeping errors to a minimum, but we urge voters also to pay attention to the ballot they are issued and, if they think they have the wrong ballot or if they have any other concerns regarding the voting process, speak to an election judge immediately so corrective action may be taken prior to scanning the ballot.  This will assist the election judges, who are voters who volunteer to work at election time to assist their neighbors with the voting process.

When the State Board of Elections selected the voting system to be used in 2016, it intended to utilize Ballot Marking Devices (BMD) at all Early Voting Centers.  This system would have allowed the Check-in Judge to hand each voter a ballot activation card with a bar code on the top, which  would contain the voter’s ballot style and, when inserted in the BMD, cause the correct ballot style to appear on the screen.  This would eliminate the need for an election judge to select the correct paper ballot for each voter.  Unfortunately, problems with how the BMD screen displayed contests with many names could cause voters to not see all candidates before voting.  For that reason, the State Board of Elections determined that the BMDs would only be used in 2016 by those individuals who requested them.

The State Board of Elections has requested the manufacturer of the BMD to modify the device so that all names in a contest would appear on the same screen.  We believe that this will be accomplished by 2018 so that all voters choosing to vote during Early Voting would be able to utilize this method, thereby eliminating the need for multiple styles of paper ballots at each location and the possibility of human errors.

The Montgomery County Board of Elections strives to ensure that each voter has a pleasant, efficient, and accurate voting process and we encourage voters to contact us with comments or suggestions for improvement, so that  we all can work together  to make a good voting experience even better.

Marjorie M. Roher
Public Information Officer
Montgomery County Board of Elections

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Early Voting Turnout Heavy Among Older and African-American Voters

Yesterday, I looked at the partisanship of early voters. Today, I take a peek of the age and racial demographics of early voters based on data graciously provided by a reader.

The estimates of the racial composition of the electorate are based on estimates of the race of voters with the caveat of the potential for errors. Not everyone named Morales is Latino just as not everyone called Goldberg is Jewish. Nonetheless, the information provide a useful first cut at who is participating in early voting.

Let’s start with the percentage of the electorate in each age group broken down by party:

partybyageEarly voters skew heavily towards older voters, especially among Republicans. At 74.4%, nearly three-quarters of GOP voters are over age 50. The Democratic share older than 50 is around 5% lower at 69.3%. Among all early voters, which includes unaffiliated and third-party registrants, the share is 68.9%, slightly lower than for Democrats. The low figure reflects much less skew towards older voters among non-major party voters.

In contrast, people 35 and under make up a low share of early voters–11.7% among all voters and just 11.4% among Democrats and 9.5% among Republicans. The latter figure reflects the heavy skew away from Republicans among millennials.

The next table shows the racial composition of each county’s electorate. Percentages add up to less than 100% because the race or ethnicity of many voters is unknown and cannot be reasonably gauged to any extent by proxies. As a result, the percentages presented here are invariably low end estimates.

countybyraceAmong early voters, African Americans are high participants (31%), exceeding their share of the voting-age population. Unsurprisingly, black participants overwhelmingly outnumber other groups in Prince George’s and Baltimore City. In Charles, African-American early voters barely edge out whites–a sign of the continuing evolution of racial demographics in that county.

The encouraging rates of black participation help explain why Democrats are consistently outperforming Republicans in early voting. Not only does Maryland have vastly more Democrats, they are voting at a higher rate than Republicans.

In contrast, Latinos (3%) and Asians (3%) appear to be casting early votes at low rates, reflecting lower rates of citizenship and turnout. Asians compose the highest share of early voters in Montgomery (7%) and Howard (6%). Latinos comprise 6% of early voters in Montgomery, and 3% in Anne Arundel, Frederick and Howard.

In Maryland as a whole, approximately 57% of early voters are white. Again, as the percentages are calculated out of total voters and many could not be placed in any category, the estimates for all racial groups are low.

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Early Voting Day 4 Stats

ev4mdEarly voting continues apace in Maryland. As in 2014, early voting dropped off precipitously over the weekend–an argument against switching Election Day to a weekend. So far, 400,235 Marylanders have voted early. This is already 93% of the people who voted early four years ago, so we will likely surpass the 2012 total today.

The increase is unsurprising due to the substantial increase in the number of early voting centers. Additionally, Governor O’Malley suspended early voting for two days in 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy and then extended it for two more days to make up the time.

While 10.3% of eligible voters have already cast their ballots, the rates differ greatly by party. 12.3% of registered Democrats have voted early compared to only 8.5% of registered Republicans.

The early vote is even more impressive when presented as a share of the number who voted in 2012. The 2016 early vote equals 14.6% of the 2012 total turnout. The number of Democrats who have voted early in 2016 is 17.0% of the total number of Democratic voters in 2012. In contrast, the number of Republican early voters is just 9.0% of the total 2012 Republican vote.

Despite the large gap between the parties, Republicans have improved very slightly relative to 2012, as the number of Republicans who have voted early this year is 97% of the 2012 total compared to 92% for the Democrats.

Note that all of these figures exclude absentee ballots. When I checked, the Board of Elections has not updated these figures since October 28th. As of that date, 78,299 Marylanders had cast absentee ballots. No doubt many more have arrived at the Board of Elections over the past few days.

The following graph shows that Montgomery County, the State’s largest jurisdiction largely reflects the State pattern.

ev4mocoIn Montgomery, 74,525 voters participated in the first four days of early voting. This equals 96% of the people who voted early four years ago, so Montgomery is performing slightly better than four years ago relative to the rest of the State (93%).

However, Montgomery still lags behind Maryland, as just 11.3% of eligible voters have voted early in the county. This includes 13.9% of registered Democrats but just 7.6% of registered Republicans. The 2016 early vote equals 12.1% of the 2012 total turnout.

Again, this masks a large partisan gap. The number of Democrats who have voted early in 2016 equals 17.0% of the total number of 2012 Democratic voters. In contrast, the number of Republican early voters is just 9.0% of the total 2012 Republican vote.

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A Critical Error in Early Voting

By Adam Pagnucco.

On Saturday, I was given a ballot by election officials at the Wheaton early voting site that would have allowed me to vote for John Sarbanes for Congress.  The problem is that I live in Jamie Raskin’s district.  And after I posted the story on Facebook, three friends of mine said that similar things happened to them.  This incident points to a significant flaw in the early voting system that needs to be addressed.

To understand what happened, let’s review how the early voting system works.  A key difference between early voting and election day voting is that voters are allowed to use any early voting site in their county regardless of where they live.  So unlike election day voting at a precinct location, election officials at early voting sites are responsible for making sure that voters get ballots reflecting the districts in which they live.

The first step in early voting is a check-in, during which a staffer verifies a voter’s identity and gives the voter a registration slip indicating his or her precinct and district information.  Next, the voter proceeds to a table at which another staffer checks the registration slip and gives the voter an appropriate ballot.  The voter then fills out the ballot in a booth and proceeds to a scanning device, where the registration slip is collected and the ballot is inserted, scanned and retained.  Lastly, the much-desired “I Voted” stickers are disbursed.

In my case, I checked in, got a registration slip reflecting my information accurately and was given a ballot.  When I started marking the ballot, I noticed that one of my choices for Congress was John Sarbanes.  That was a problem since I don’t live in his district – I live in Congressional District 8, home of Jamie Raskin.  I returned to the ballot table and told them I had the wrong ballot.  Upon checking, the election staffer said, “Good catch,” gave me a new ballot and told me to take my old ballot to a different area.  Acting on instructions, I marked the old ballot as spoiled, folded it in half and put it in an envelope containing other spoiled ballots.  I asked the election staff what would have happened had I indeed voted for Sarbanes.  They said they didn’t know.

Once I told the story on Facebook, two of my friends told me that they were initially given the wrong ballots by staffers at early voting, but the mistakes were caught before they could bring the ballots to the voting booth.  A third friend said she was given a wrong ballot and, like me, she returned it to the staff to get a correct ballot.  This latter incident happened during the primary.

These were honest mistakes, and whenever human beings are involved in a process like this, mistakes happen.  The problem from a systemic perspective is that there is insufficient redundancy built in to prevent and correct these mistakes.  Once the ballot staffer gives a voter a ballot, there is no person other than the voter who can make sure that the ballot is the correct one.  By the time the voter approaches the scanner, there is no way to be sure that the ballot accurately reflects that voter’s districts.  And when the ballot is scanned, it’s too late to tell because there is nothing on the ballot itself identifying the precinct of the voter who cast it.  For all anyone knows, that ballot is accurately counted.  A paper recount would not find otherwise.  Worst of all, there is no way to track these mistakes.  Unless people like me report their experiences, it would be hard to know that this problem is occurring at all.

The result of all this is that an unknown number of ballots are being cast for candidates by voters who do not live in their districts.  The scale of that problem is mitigated somewhat because this is a presidential year, and the only variability in this county’s ballots occurs between the three Congressional Districts.  But in a mid-term year, there will be elections in five County Council districts and eight state legislative districts in addition to the three Congressional Districts.  There will be many ballot permutations reflecting voters who live in different configurations of these districts.  So the potential for mistakes is much higher.  Relying on individual voters to prevent these mistakes is not an adequate solution.

It’s too late to correct these errors for the ballots already cast, and unless election officials act immediately, it may be too late to clean up the process for this election.  But there is time to build safeguards into the system for the 2018 elections, during which the issue will be even more critical.  The State Board of Elections and their overseers in the General Assembly need to make sure that this problem gets fixed.

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Early Voting Stats Day 1

Democracy rules! On the first day of early voting, my polling place was packed with people waiting to cast their ballot. Either people can’t wait to be done with this election or they feel strongly about their candidates, or both.

On their Twitter feed, the Maryland State Board of Elections reports that a record 125,914 people voted on the first day of early voting. That compares to just 78,409 people who voted on the first day of early voting four years ago–an increase of 60.6%. Statistics for this year are not yet available by county.

As of today, 68,377 have returned absentee ballots out of a total of 196,450 that have been sent out, so 65.2% of absentee ballots are still outstanding. The total number of people who have already voted in Maryland is 194,291.

How does this compare with 2012? There were 153,100 absentee votes four years ago, so we are currently at 44.7% of 2012’s total with Election Day 12 days away. Maryland looks set to blow way past early voting totals from 2012 as we have already reached 28.8% of the 437,600 early votes cast that year. Right now, the total votes cast as a share of the 2012 total of 3,693,600 is just 5.3%, so the vast majority of votes are still to come.

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Good Solution on Early Voting

The Montgomery County Board of Elections (BOE) has agreed to reinstate the original nine early voting (EV) centers, instead of closing ones in Burtonsville and Chevy Chase to relocate them to more Republican Potomac and Brookville.

In return, the all-Democratic state legislative delegation has agreed to support legislation to open a tenth EV center in Montgomery. My guess is that this one would be in Potomac, since that location was preferred by the BOE over Brookville when they agreed to reopen the Burtonsville EV center.

Here is the communication from MCDCC:

The Montgomery County Board of Elections (BOE) voted to reinstate 8 of the original early voting centers from the 2014 election and the Wheaton Firehouse to replace the Wheaton Community Center, which is undergoing rennovation. This includes the Praisner and Lawton centers advocated by the MCDCC, County Council, and State Legislators, as well as numerous community members and non-partisan community groups. The decision means that they will submit the 9 centers to the State BOE for approval at their special meeting on Friday October 23.

A critical part of this decision is that the MCDCC and State Delegation made a commitment to submit legislation at the beginning of the Legislative Session in January to add a 10th early voting center in Montgomery County for the 2016 election. The County Council also made a commitment to establish a 10th early voting center.

Although the decision by the Board today will not be final until it is approved by the State BOE, voters in Montgomery County should be pleased with the outcome.

We will be in touch after the State BOE meeting on Friday to report on the final decision.

Darrell Anderson
MCDCC Chair

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Early Voting Controversy Continues as GOP Feels the Heat

Board of Elections Shenanigans Documented

The Republican Board of Elections Chair is moving to restore one of the early-voting sites closed in a partisan vote after Republicans on the Board consulted secretly with party leaders and among themselves in closed meetings. Instead of opening a new early voting center in Brookville, he will propose at a special meeting to keep open the Praisner Center, which has a high share of African-American and Latino voters. From the Washington Post:

Bowing to three weeks of pressure from Democrats, the head of Montgomery County’s Board of Elections said Monday that he will propose that the Republican-majority panel retain one of the two heavily used early-voting sites it had voted last month to move. . .

Shalleck has scheduled a special board meeting for 5 p.m. Wednesday at the county elections offices in Gaithersburg to recommend that the Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center in Burtonsville continue as an early-voting spot.

But he still wants to close the Lawton Center site in order to open one in Potomac in the name of “geographic diversity” so the Democrats aren’t buying. The Lawton Center is in one of the more densely populated areas of the County and also within walking distance of the County’s largest employment center in Bethesda.

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More Evidence of Early Vote Partisanship

Nope. Not a Partisan Decision at All

In a previous post, Adam Pagnucco examined the effect of the planned shift in early voting centers and found that the changes–passed by the Republican members of the Election Board over the unanimous objection of the Democrats–helped Republicans.

More evidence of partisan shenanigans emerged at the Montgomery County Council hearing. Portions of it shown above in a video put together by the Montgomery County Young Democrats nicely excerpt key moments.

The logical solution is simply to expand the number of early voting centers by two. This allows the placement of additional centers in less densely populated areas of the County, as Republicans favor, while maintaining existing centers in high density areas, including one with an above average share of African-American and Latino voters.

Republicans, however, tend to view early voting as one big “anti-conservative gambit,” weirdly claiming that it is an attempt to “make it harder for ‘the Republican base’ to vote” even though early voting allows everyone to vote. You’d think a party with so many resources would welcome the chance to get voters to the polls.

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Is the Change in Early Voting Locations a Partisan Move?

Today, I’m pleased to present a guest post by Adam Pagnucco:

Is This Voter Suppression?

Last week, Montgomery County’s Board of Elections voted to close early voting centers in Chevy Chase and Burtonsville and open new ones in Potomac and Brookeville. This prompted charges of voter suppression from Montgomery County Council Member Tom Hucker, who represents Burtonsville and started an online petition to overturn the decision. Hucker points out that the Board’s vote was on party lines, with a Republican majority voting for the change, and that the Burtonsville site has a significant concentration of minority voters. The Board’s Republican President, who ran for County Executive last year, claims that the change was motivated not by politics but by a desire to expand early voting to areas that have not had it.

Who’s right? Let’s look at the data.

First, let’s examine the demographic characteristics of the areas surrounding the early voting sites. For this exercise, I pulled U.S. Census data on zip codes within one mile of each site. Zip codes 20814 and 20815 apply to the Lawton Center in Chevy Chase, 20866 and 20905 apply to the Praisner Center in Burtonsville, 20854 applies to the Potomac Community Recreation Center and 20832 and 20833 apply to the Longwood Community Recreation Center in Brookeville. Following is information on race and income of the residents in these zip codes for the years 2009-2013.

White Non-Hispanic Percentage of Population

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          77%
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        38
Potomac                                                                                       68
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  64

County Total                                                                               48

Black Non-Hispanic Percentage of Population

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          4%
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        32
Potomac                                                                                       4
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  12

County Total                                                                               17

Hispanic Percentage of Population

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          9%
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        9
Potomac                                                                                       7
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  9

County Total                                                                               17

Mean Household Income

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          189,879
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        127,711
Potomac                                                                                       256,851
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  143,685

County Total                                                                               132,222

On these measures, Burtonsville stands out from the other locations. It has a lower income than the other three sites, a lower percentage of non-Hispanic whites and a higher percentage of African Americans. Its African American percentage is nearly double the county’s average. And yet, this site is targeted for closure.

Hucker’s argument is not just rooted in demographics, however. He asserts that the changes are motivated by a desire to advantage Republican voters at the expense of Democrats. Is he right? Let’s look at data on voter registration and actual voting.

For this exercise, I pulled data on voter registration as of August 2015 on all precincts within one mile of each early voting site. Here is the total number of registered voters of all parties near each site.

Registered Voters, All Parties, within one mile

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          22,012
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        12,833
Potomac                                                                                       11,649
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  13,014

The Lawton Center is within walking distance of Downtown Bethesda, the biggest single employment location in the county, so this statistic actually understates its potential reach. The Praisner Center saw more early votes than any site in the county in the 2014 general election with the exception of Silver Spring. Any prioritization of voter access without regard to party should protect the continued operation of both sites.

Now let’s look at the Republican percentage of registered voters.

Republican Percentage of Registered Voters within one mile

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          17%
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        16
Potomac                                                                                       20
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  29

County Total                                                                               19

In terms of Republican registration percentage, not only do the two new sites exceed the two closed sites, they also exceed the county average.

Registration is only part of the story. Let’s look at the percentage of the vote received by Republican Governor Larry Hogan in last year’s general election in precincts within one mile of each site.

Hogan Percentage of Gubernatorial General Vote within one mile

Lawton Center, Chevy Chase                                          33%
Praisner Center, Burtonsville                                        33
Potomac                                                                                       43
Brookeville/Olney                                                                  55

County Total                                                                               37

Again, the GOP enjoys a net advantage. The Brookeville area is one of the few parts of the county in which Larry Hogan scored an outright win, and – guess what? – the Republican-majority Board of Elections has given it an early voting site.

U.S. Census and voter data show that the early voting site change on net has improved voting convenience for Republicans and some groups of white and high-income residents while decreasing voting convenience for African Americans and lower-income residents in East County. The voting trends near the sites suggest that this may help Governor Hogan’s performance in the next election.

Is this voter suppression? I guess that depends on your definition of “suppression.” But since U.S. Census and voting data are publicly available – and the latter is held by the Board of Elections – it’s hard to believe that the board was acting blindly. Suppression or not, this has the look of manipulation for partisan gain.

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