Tag Archives: Maryland State Board of Elections

The Voting Wars Come to Maryland

Where Matters Stand Now

Maryland has been in quite a ferment over whether to mail out ballots to everyone as opposed to sending out mail-ballot applications to everyone. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) insisted on the latter and got his way. But Democrats vehemently want the former and mail-ballot applications have yet to hit mailboxes.

Originally, the Governor wanted all polling places to open too but has now bowed to the reality that there are not enough people to staff them and reluctantly allowed the State Board of Elections (SBOE) to combine them into many fewer. Let’s hope the remaining polling places have more voting kiosks than usual, so they can process more people than a standard polling place.

Early voting should continue relatively normally. I’d anticipate high demand not just due to interest in the election but also to concern about mail ballot delivery and voting on election day.

We will also have many more drop off boxes. According to the WaPo, Montgomery County plans to go from two or three to forty this year. Prince George’s plans on adding an additional thirty-six boxes. Sen. Cheryl Kagan, who has been very active on election issues, tells me we should have even more than anticipated. The more, the better.

How Are We Doing on that Shift to Mail Voting?

Not so good. The adjustment to much higher rates of mail voting has been far from glitch free. Some of our ballots for the all-mail primary got sent to South Carolina. Those of us who applied for mail ballots did not receive them initially even though people who had not requested them had.

In general, ballots arrived later than they should’ve with delays especially long in some areas of the state. It’s a good thing we opened up polling places, after a lawsuit, but the lines were too long and the state should have known they were required without being sued.

We don’t seem off to a roaring start for the general in which mail voting is heavily encouraged but not every voter will be sent a ballot. Again, the state has failed so far to send mail ballot applications. The Governor can blame the State Board of Elections but surely should have some responsibility for making sure that they can implement a plan before mandating it.

Will It Matter?

The switch from away from all-mail might depress turnout as voters won’t have the ballot sent directly to their home unless they request it. The State Board of Elections has very belatedly made the online application less intimidating. Speaker Adrienne Jones was quite right to highlight that issue.

At the same time, polling places will be open both for early voting and election day voting, so the overall impact of the switch is hard to assess. The chances for any impact on contests seems low because there just aren’t a lot of hot races.

Compared to many other states, we’re not voting for much in Maryland this year. No state legislative elections and few local elections. We don’t even have a U.S. Senate race. I can call the winners of Maryland’s ten presidential electors and eight congressional races now.

The few partisan local races don’t look very exciting. My knowledge of Baltimore City and Cecil County politics is relatively slim. But I do know that Democrats are usually a lock in Baltimore and Republicans the same in Cecil. I’m afraid I can’t speak to the contest for a seat on the Wicomico County Council.

I suppose the change in voting might have an impact if some of the nonpartisan school board and judicial races turn out very close. Judicial contests operate below the radar for most people. Several challengers, however, upset incumbents in the primary, so these contests are more heated than usual. Still, while I’m sure the cognoscenti are interested, Maryland’s judicial races lack the partisan juice of Wisconsin.

If the switch away from all-mail depresses turnout, the main concern might be that it somewhat lightens the weight of Maryland’s contribution to Joe Biden’s national vote margin. That’s of more interest than usual since Donald Trump seems intent on doing his tinpot dictator impression by casting doubt on any ballots that are not cast for him.

On the other hand, if more people vote in person out of concern over the mail, it will also lead to fewer invalidated votes. Unlike at polling places, mail-ballot voters who make a mistake, such as failing to sign the ballot oath, have no chance to correct their errors and the ballot gets tossed.

Problems with Both Mail and All-Mail Voting

We don’t have signature checks in Maryland to make sure that the person who voted and mailed the ballot was the voter. In fact, they are illegal under Maryland law. As a result, even if we shifted to all mail, we could not implement them in the manner of every state that normally does all-mail voting (and California) unless the General Assembly changed the law. Interestingly, this seems to have eluded both sides in the debate over the Governor’s election plan.

This hasn’t been much of an issue in the past as Maryland usually has a lot of early voters but comparatively few mail voters.

We have the signatures on file, so we could do signature checks if the General Assembly changed the law. Some argue against them as unnecessary because there are few problematic ballots in states with checks. But this type of fraud seems a lot less likely when people are checking up on it. Absentee ballot manipulation is exactly how Republicans attempted to steal a 2018 North Carolina congressional election. (In person fraud is different and extremely rare notwithstanding vehement Republican partisan demands for voter ID to solve a non-problem.)

If you have signature checks, you also must find a way to give voters a chance to cure (i.e. validate) any questionable ballots to avoid disfranchising voters. This isn’t always easy and needs improvement. But it’s vital because checking signatures is not an exact science and we want to protect against disfranchisement.

Precinct Reporting

In Maryland during the all-mail primary, the Board of Elections did not attribute ballots cast by mail back to the precinct. The ballots didn’t have codes on them that made that easy. Local county boards can still do if they’re willing. Many won’t because it’s a lot of work but I was pleased to learn that the Montgomery County Board of Elections is going to do it.

For the general, the SBOE tells me that the ballots will have precinct codes, but the proof is in the pudding. Precinct results are very nice to have not just for political researchers and junkies like me but because they are a critical tool in detecting fraud or other problems.

Two Bright Spots

During the primary, the State allowed jurisdictions to count mail-in ballots when they were received but not to release the vote totals until after the polls closed on election day. This allowed for faster reporting of initial results. The same is planned for the general election.

The Governor’s election plan to encourage mail voting by sending ballot applications but not mailing ballots is much more expensive and places real burdens on county boards to process applications. Originally, the Governor and SBOE wanted counties to foot one-half of the bill for the postage paid return envelope. Thanks to efforts by Sen. Kagan along with the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) and Montgomery County, SBOE has now agreed to cover the substantial cost of this unfunded mandate.

Final Note: Stop Playing Trump’s Game

As Law Professor Richard Pildes explained, disagreement between Donald Trump and Democrats over mail and all-mail voting has no point. Excepting Nevada, the only states using all-mail voting are the same ones that always use it. Democrats would be better served by emphasizing that all the swing states are using absentee voting (the same as mail voting in Maryland), which Trump has declared okele-dokele. Use his own argument against him to fight very doubt he’s manufacturing. In other words, don’t have an argument to no purpose that benefits him instead of Democrats even if he’s wrong.

The post office, however, bears watching. I can’t regard the lack of mail service at my home yesterday as an encouraging sign. The claims that all is well are belied by Trump’s blunt statements that he doesn’t want funding for USPS because it would aid in mail voting, which he sees as bad for him. Dismantling sorting machines also seems unlikely to increase postal efficiency. It’s also a terrible issue for Republicans.


Top Seventh State Stories, June 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in June ranked by page views.

1. Repeal the Linda Lamone for Life Law
2. Baltimore City’s Election Has a Problem
3. Will Talbot County Choose Tourism or Slavery?
4. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”
5. Elrich Asks MCPS for Cuts
6. Jawando Ignored Public Information Act, Had Scant Evidence Before Filing Rent Control Bill
7. First School Board Results Favor Harris
8. MCPS Survey Responses on Distance Learning
9. Elrich’s Police Union Contract
10. It’s the CIP, Stupid! (Guest blog by Gus Bauman)

Congratulations to former Planning Board Chair Gus Bauman for making our top ten!

The break-out story of the month was the one about the Talbot Boys statue, which was shared dozens of times across the Eastern Shore. Now that Mississippi has removed the confederate battle flag from its state flag, there is no longer any excuse for Talbot County leaders to continue honoring the Confederacy.


Why the Democrats Must Get Rid of Lamone

By Adam Pagnucco.

State elections administrator Linda Lamone is one of the great survivors in Maryland political history. Ensconced in her perch since 1997, she has weathered crisis after crisis over the years. Think about the folks holding power when Lamone was first appointed: Governor Parris Glendening, Attorney General Joe Curran, Comptroller Louis Goldstein, Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker of the House Cas Taylor. All are long gone except for Miller, who is still in the Senate but has relinquished his post as president. And yet Lamone remains.

It is time for state Democrats to bring that to an end.

In light of everything that just happened in the primary, consider this. For Democrats, voting rights are a core issue. In Maryland, Democrats passed early voting, same-day voter registration and automatic voter registration. They were outraged when MoCo’s Republican-majority county board of elections resisted opening early voting centers in heavily minority communities in 2015 and 2019. Democrats all over the country accuse Republicans of trying to suppress voting, especially in predominantly black and Latino precincts.

What went on in the recent primary is far worse than any squabbling over early voting centers. I bet there are not many adults in this state who don’t know someone who got a late ballot, got no ballot at all or got ballots for people who no longer lived at their address. The botched count in Baltimore City’s Council District 1 is disgraceful and may be beyond redemption. The city’s elections director admitted to Baltimore Brew that he was asleep when city results were pulled overnight and added, “I have no idea why it happened.” Observing the wreckage, Lamone herself told the Sun, “As I said before, I’m really proud of the way everybody pitched in and helped and tried to make everything work as best it could.”

Donald Trump could not have asked for a better example for his case against voting by mail than what happened in Maryland. The fact that the epicenter of our electoral meltdown was majority-black Baltimore City enables Trump and his allies to argue that voting by mail disenfranchises black voters.

Think about that for a minute.

Ballot problems were probably inevitable given the long history of audits finding issues with the state’s custody of voter registration records. Here is a sample of what legislative audits on the State Board of Elections (SBE) conducted over the last decade have said.

June 2010: “Our audit disclosed several deficiencies with respect to oversight of the local election boards. Procedures were not sufficient to ensure the propriety of the Statewide voter registration database. For example, processes put in place to ensure the propriety of critical database changes (such as to add or delete voter registrations) processed by the local boards were not comprehensive and SBE did not ensure that local boards removed convicted felons from the voter registration database.”

March 2014: “Known security concerns over the Online Voter Registration System, which allows citizens to register to vote and update voter registration records online, were not being properly addressed until recently. In addition, adequate procedures were not in place to ensure convicted felons serving court-ordered sentences were removed from the voter registration database.”

April 2017: “SBE did not establish certain controls to maintain the integrity of the Statewide voter registration records and to protect certain voter data. For example, user access to the voter registration system was not effectively controlled; consequently, numerous system users had unnecessary access to the voter registration database, which was removed after our inquiries. We also noted that SBE did not ensure that personally identifiable information from the database was either properly safeguarded when transmitted to a third party contractor or removed from its own records. In this regard, the full social security numbers from over 590,000 voters were retained by SBE in the database even though only the last four digits are needed.”

December 2019: “SBE’s oversight processes were not adequate to ensure that local boards of election appropriately corrected voter registration data based on the results of internal reviews of voter registration activity and the reports of possible ineligible voters that it received from external sources.”

Did anyone in authority actually read these audits?

Other than Lamone herself, the key figure in all of this is State Senate President Bill Ferguson. Under the structure of the Linda Lamone for Life law, the state elections administrator serves until her successor is confirmed by the Senate. In the old days, then-President Mike Miller, Lamone’s great protector, was in charge so Lamone was safe. But Miller is now out of power and Ferguson sits on the throne. Ferguson, who was elected to the Senate in 2010, was not in office when the Lamone for Life law was passed. (That probably applies to a majority of the current General Assembly.) Ferguson is a young, thoughtful consensus seeker who wants to show that government can make a positive difference in people’s lives. Lamone’s continued tenure is a threat to that perspective. Let’s remember that Baltimore City Council District 1, where the worst mistakes were committed, overlaps with Ferguson’s own legislative district. How many constituent complaints has Ferguson received? Because he now runs the Senate schedule, if Ferguson were to call for Lamone’s resignation, that would be a game changer. So far he has not.

The big winner from the blow-up is Governor Larry Hogan, who can point out that the Lamone for Life law prevents him from removing her. Whenever anything goes wrong, now or in the future, Hogan can simply blame the Democrats. What happens if Hogan activates his massive social media machine around the issue? The potential public shaming capacity is almost beyond comprehension.

Then there is Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is running for governor on a “disrupt the machine” platform. Franchot has openly called for Lamone’s resignation. The Democratic leadership detests Franchot even more than Hogan and would rather gargle transmission fluid than see him become governor. One of them acidly reminded me that Franchot voted for the Lamone for Life bill when he was a Delegate minutes after getting his anti-Lamone email. Regardless, the last thing that the Democratic leaders want to do is gift-wrap a campaign issue for Franchot. And as long as Lamone remains in her job, Franchot will cite her as Exhibit A of “the machine.”

All of the above said, here is the bottom line. Long ago, the Democrats created Lamone. They passed a law to protect her. They kept her at the state board of elections despite two decades of problems. Whether they like it or not, they own what she does. The rampant issues in our latest primary are now calling the question, which is this: the Democrats cannot be the party of voting rights and also the party of Linda Lamone. It’s time to make a choice.

With voters all over the state looking on, what will they choose?


Franchot to General Assembly: Time for Lamone to Go

By Adam Pagnucco.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, who has previously called for the resignation of state elections administrator Linda Lamone, has sent the email below to every member of the General Assembly.


Dear Senators and Delegates:

In case you missed it, I wanted to share with you this piece by The Seventh State’s Adam Pagnucco regarding the fiasco that unfolded earlier this week in our primary elections as well as the historical context of Linda Lamone’s leadership of the State Board of Elections.

Like you, I was deeply disappointed and remain very frustrated by the manner in which the June 2 elections were administered by the State Board of Elections, specifically in Baltimore City. The City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, and our country are already facing far too many existential challenges without corroded public confidence in the integrity of our democratic process and in the legitimacy of the outcomes.

As you may know, during Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting, Lt. Governor Rutherford and I joined together in a bipartisan fashion to call for Administrator Lamone’s resignation. The failure to properly execute the June 2 election, along with the challenges that we are all aware of in previous elections, warrant Administrator Lamone’s resignation or removal from office.

However, as you know, thanks to a 2005 bill enacted by the General Assembly, widely referred to as the “Linda Lamone for Life” law, her termination by the State Board of Elections is made all the more challenging thanks to the passage of this legislation. The law now requires that the Administrator – even if terminated by the State Board of Elections – can remain in office until the Senate advises and consents to a replacement. No other employee of state government enjoys this level of statutory job protection.

The choice that the Senate makes on the future of Linda Lamone is one between efficient stewardship of our elections and gross administrative incompetence. It is a choice between voter empowerment and voter disenfranchisement. It is a choice between a system in which people can have confidence in the integrity of their institutions of government and one in that makes them question the legitimacy of our elections and outcomes. It is my sincere hope that the Senate will come to the same conclusion that I and the vast majority of Marylanders have made: it is time for new, competent leadership at the State Board of Elections.

Thank you for your consideration.


Peter Franchot


Repeal the Linda Lamone for Life Law

By Adam Pagnucco.

Imagine a senior state employee appointed by the governor to a politically sensitive position. Now imagine the following hypothetical situation: the employee commits a heinous crime covered by every TV station in the state. Imagine this employee is then convicted and imprisoned. One would think that such an employee – any state employee, really – would be terminated from employment by the state in such a hypothetical circumstance.

You would be right – EXCEPT for one key position in state government: the State Administrator of Elections. Under current state law, that position would continue to be occupied by its current holder for a potentially indefinite period.

That law is commonly known as the “Linda Lamone for Life” law.

It must be repealed.

To understand how this law came to be, let’s go back in time. Linda Lamone, who is the State Administrator of Elections today, was appointed by Governor Parris Glendening to the position in 1997 but Republican Bob Ehrlich was elected governor in 2002. By 2005, Ehrlich had decided to get rid of her. But Lamone had an ace-in-the-hole – Mike Miller, who was then in his prime as Senate President and was determined to protect her. To thwart Ehrlich, Miller pushed through Senate Bill 444 to protect Lamone’s job. Ehrlich vetoed it but General Assembly Democrats overrode the veto, thereby winning one of Maryland’s uglier partisan battles of the last couple decades.

The bill’s fiscal note concisely states its purpose.

The State board may remove the State Administrator provided that the board is fully constituted with five duly confirmed members. Removal requires the affirmative vote of four duly confirmed members. The State Administrator is authorized to continue to serve subsequent to a valid vote of removal until a successor is confirmed by the Senate of Maryland.

And so it did not matter if Ehrlich’s appointees to the State Board of Elections (SBE) voted to remove Lamone. It did not matter if they got a super-majority for removal. Lamone would continue to serve regardless until the Senate voted for a successor. That meant Lamone was accountable to just one person – the person who scheduled Senate business. You guessed it – that person was Mike Miller.

At the time, the Gazette put it this way.

The bill is so restrictive that the elections administrator could not be removed from office even if all five members of the State Board of Elections vote to fire her, even if she were convicted of first-degree murder, sentenced to death row and stripped of her voting rights. Only when the state Senate approves a replacement could she be removed. Now that’s job security.

Lamone has been a controversial administrator over the years. Her tenure has seen problems with campaign finance reporting software, a 2010 state audit finding “seriously deficient” financial practices (some of which had been previously found in 2006), a 2016 election in Baltimore City in which 800 votes were improperly counted, a 2017 state audit alleging that SBE had put 600,000 social security numbers at risk of hacking and the 2018 revelation from the FBI that an SBE vendor hosting election data was owned by a Russian oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin. In 2018, a fed-up former member of the Montgomery County Board of Elections penned a Washington Post op-ed titled “Maryland Can’t Protect its Elections.

Last year, Governor Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot complained to Lamone about long lines in the previous general election. Franchot said, “This was a black eye for Maryland around the country.” Hogan added, “They were making fun of us on the national television about how bad the Maryland election was being administered… You are the Maryland state election administrator.” Lamone blamed the local election boards, responding, “I have no control.”

In December 2019, a General Assembly audit of SBE stated the following:

Our audit disclosed that improvements were needed to SBE’s existing processes and controls to ensure the integrity of the Statewide voter registration records. Specifically, SBE did not perform periodic documented reviews of the voter registration system to ensure that access capabilities were properly restricted. Furthermore, SBE’s oversight processes were not adequate to ensure that local boards of election appropriately corrected voter registration data based on the results of internal reviews of voter registration activity and the reports of possible ineligible voters that it received from external sources.

In addition, SBE systems, including the online voter registration website and the electronic pollbook system used for voter check-in, were at risk since controls were inadequate to ensure that only properly authorized program changes were placed into production for these systems.

Perhaps most noteworthy was Lamone’s allegiance to flawed vote counting machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems, which went on for years despite clear evidence of problems. Among other issues, the machines were shown to be vulnerable to hacking, the company employed at least five felons in management roles and the company’s CEO once promised to “deliver” Ohio to George W. Bush. The machines had no paper trail and Lamone vowed that they would have one “over my dead body.” In a particularly bizarre 2006 incident, three SBE computer disks with voting machine source codes were left outside the office of former Delegate (and current State Senator) Cheryl Kagan, a longtime Lamone critic. Kagan said, “How many copies of this software are there? If they sent it to me, is it possible that there are a dozen other copies out there?… My understanding is that, with this software, a person of ill intent could disable a machine or skew an election.” The state wound up suing Diebold in 2008 and the machines were scrapped.

Lamone concedes nothing to her critics. Why should she? They are powerless to hold her accountable. None of their jobs are protected by state law! Here is video of Lamone arguing with press over the doomed Diebold machines, eventually walking out of an interview.

Not all election problems are Lamone’s fault. The state and county boards of elections work together to hold elections in every cycle. Some mistakes are made by county boards. There are also occasional problems with vendors that even well-run boards have to confront.

But there is a national context to SBE’s recent problems that is inescapable. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, many states around the country – probably including Maryland – will be using mostly vote-by-mail elections in November. President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, fearing massive turnout from hostile voters, are doing everything possible to discredit vote-by-mail elections. The huge number of issues in Maryland’s primary with late ballots, ballots not received, ballots sent to departed voters and of course Baltimore’s Council District 1 race will be exploited by Republicans – and maybe even hostile foreign powers – to erode faith in the voting process. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to hold top election officials accountable when things go wrong.

And in order to do that, the Linda Lamone for Life law must be repealed.


Franchot: Lamone Must Go

By Adam Pagnucco.

Comptroller Peter Franchot has joined Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford in calling for the resignation of State Board of Elections administrator Linda Lamone in the wake of the botched Baltimore City Council District 1 election. Franchot made the following statement on Facebook.


Yes, we do have a problem with the Baltimore City elections. A very big problem, in fact. Namely, voter disenfranchisement through gross administrative incompetence and widespread, citywide irregularities.

Inexcusable delays in the disbursement of ballots.

Inaccurate, misleading information on those same ballots.

Firsthand accounts, of which there are far too many to reference here, of Marylanders enduring unacceptable barriers to their constitutional right to vote.

Such as ballots that were never received in the mail.

Unacceptably long lines at the limited number of polling stations that were actually open. And people being told at the polls that they had already voted when, in fact, that wasn’t the case.

Bizarre and obviously mistaken vote totals being posted to the our state’s official board of elections website that caused undue public confusion.

And this morning, more than 12 hours after the polls were supposed to have closed in Baltimore City, the residents and business owners of this city in crisis had no timely updates on the outcome of the races for mayor, council president, city comptroller and various city council seats.

All we can be sure of today is that people who had the right to vote didn’t receive a ballot. People who didn’t have the right to vote DID. And that, regardless of whatever outcomes are eventually posted by our state and city elections boards, they will be subjected to widespread skepticism if not credible legal challenges.

Our city, state and country are already facing far too many existential challenges without corroded public confidence in the integrity of our democratic process and in the legitimacy of the outcomes. Yet that’s what is happening today, yet again, in our state.

It’s time for an end to the endless excuses. It’s time for a new culture of accountability and competence. It’s time for our longtime state elections administrator, Linda Lamone, and our city’s election director, Armstead Jones, to resign from their respective positions.


SBE Explains Mistake; Rutherford Calls for Lamone’s Resignation

By Adam Pagnucco.

The State Board of Elections (SBE) has issued the statement below on vote counting problems in the City of Baltimore’s Council District 1.

Simultaneously, Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford called on State Board of Elections administrator Linda Lamone to resign. He said the following at this morning’s meeting of the Board of Public Works.

Yesterday was primary day in Maryland. There were reports of several challenges associated with it. There is some information that’s coming out today with regard to some challenges in Baltimore City. I have not had a chance to review it but with regard to the ballots in the first councilmanic district, that is just another example of the challenges that have been occurring with the State Board of Elections. And I did say earlier in a radio interview that I really think it’s time for the administrator at the Board of Elections to step down. I think it’s time for new leadership there and to be done early, before we – with enough time to correct all of these issues before we get to November’s general election. And so I call on the Senate to work with us to find new leadership and I encourage the administrator to step down.

Getting rid of Lamone is easier said than done and the Governor has no power to do it. As I wrote eleven years ago, when former Governor Bob Ehrlich tried to oust Lamone, the General Assembly changed state law to make it virtually impossible to fire her without the consent of the Senate. The Gazette wrote at the time, “The bill is so restrictive that the elections administrator could not be removed from office even if all five members of the State Board of Elections vote to fire her, even if she were convicted of first-degree murder, sentenced to death row and stripped of her voting rights. Only when the state Senate approves a replacement could she be removed. Now that’s job security.”

Only one thing is certain: the fallout from Baltimore’s botched Council District 1 election is just beginning. What will happen next?


Baltimore City’s Election Has a Problem

By Adam Pagnucco.

Baltimore City Council Member Zeke Cohen was riding high. A first term incumbent in District 1 (Southeast Baltimore/Canton/Fells Point), Cohen was running for reelection and was endorsed by most of the major progressive institutional players in city politics.

Cohen’s challenger, Paris Bienert, was a credible candidate but her endorsement list was no match for the incumbent.

For the cycle, Cohen outraised Bienert by $322,837 vs $170,795 through May 17, a nearly 2-1 edge. Cohen also outspent Bienert by $194,015 vs $124,069. Cohen was so confident of victory that he reported a cash balance of $206,174 on May 17.

So this looks like a big win for the incumbent, yeah?

Not exactly.

Last night, Cohen tweeted the following after seeing early results showing Bienert getting 98% of the vote.

Cohen called out the county board of elections and the results came down.

Another person caught this aberrant result. (I redacted the person’s identity from the tweet.)

Even Bienert didn’t believe it. She told the Baltimore Sun, “I’m very excited by these numbers, but I do think there’s been a misreporting.”

All of this will remind folks of the botched city election of four years ago, when activists alleged “irregularities, including late-opening polling stations; alleged conflicts of interest among campaign staffers who worked as election judges; polling-machine memory sticks that were missing for about 24 hours; and problems with resources, including shortages of ballots and ballpoint pens at some centers.” Future federal convict Catherine Pugh wound up winning the race for Mayor.

I am hearing that the State Board of Elections will address the matter today. For now, this tweet on Cohen’s thread says it all.


Baltimore City Election Results Taken Down

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last night at 11:20 PM, these early results for Mayor of Baltimore City were posted on the State Board of Elections website.

The city’s other races had early results too.

As of this writing, this is what the early results for the mayor’s race looks like.

Last night, the State Board of Elections’ county status page showed Baltimore City as sending in partial vote-by-mail results. Below is what that page looks like now. The city is the only jurisdiction shown as not sending any results despite the early returns posted last night.

What is going on?


Why Was Your Ballot Late?

Ballots arrived at an irregular pace this year. Then, when they came, the ballots had the original primary date of April 28th printed on them. What happened?

Late Ballots

Snafus with SeaChange, the vendor used to print and to mail the ballots, explain many of the problems. According to Deputy State Administrator Nikki Charleson at the Maryland State Board of Elections, “the vendor did not meet the schedule for Montgomery or Baltimore City” and ballots were “mailed out later than planned.”

Ballots for Baltimore City, the locale with a number of hot local contests, were supposed to have been mailed on May 8 but SeaChange did not start posting them until significantly later. In a press release, the State Board blamed SeaChange explicitly not only for missing the deadline but misleading Maryland election officials:

On May 7, SeaChange informed SBE that ballots for Baltimore City were printed and would be mailed on May 8 and confirmed on May 11 that some Baltimore City ballots had been mailed. SBE relied on this incorrect information when communicating with the public, advocacy organizations and candidates. While some files were late, it was the misleading information provided by SeaChange that led to the unmet expectations and the confusion over the ballot delivery process.

Will there be a lawsuit? Refund? Unquestionably, this should be investigated by the General Assembly. Mistakes happen, especially during a crisis but the state shouldn’t be misled by its vendors. Lying isn’t a symptom of coronavirus.

Similarly, ballots for Montgomery did not get sent until after the scheduled date. In many households, a ballot arrived for one adult but not for another. The mailing of ballots for a single local jurisdiction on different dates probably explains this strange pattern.

When I communicated with the Montgomery County Board of Elections, I also learned that there was a problem with absentee ballots. Although, everyone was effectively an absentee voter due to the adoption of universal vote-by-mail, voters who requested absentee ballots were on a separate electronic list and were not mailed ballots simultaneously with other voters.

Charlson explained that the vendor, SeaChange, had served as a subcontractor for printing ballots in 2018 as well as the special primary and general election in the Seventh Congressional District this year. She said that the state did not experience any problems that warranted not engaging SeaChange again at that time.

Why Did the Ballots Say April 28th?

The original primary was scheduled for April 28th. Given the timing of the Governor’s executive order mandating both the change of election date and vote by mail, the ballots were already finalized with many already printed. As a result, the State Board did not deem it feasible to reprint ballots with the new date, though notices were included to highlight that they remained valid notwithstanding the later date.

Who Should Receive Ballots?

Although it’s a primary, you should still receive a ballot if there is a school board race in your jurisdiction even if you’re not registered with a party. All school boards in Maryland are nonpartisan, so voters who are not affiliated with a party can participate in the primaries for these contests.

All active registered voters should receive ballots. Active is defined quite broadly and may include people who haven’t voted for a number of elections. People who have moved or died may still be considered “active voters” unless the Board discovered that they were no longer eligible because their mail was returned or through a number of other checks undertaken by the Board. In short, the state errs heavily on the side of keeping someone on the rolls and it is unlikely that you have been wrongly purged from the voter rolls.

If you didn’t receive a ballot, you should contact your local Board of Elections and consider voting at one of the open polling places on Election Day, June 2nd, as time is short for another ballot to get mailed and arrive. Remember that all ballots postmarked by June 2nd will be counted as long as they arrive before 10am on June 12.