Maryland election officials said nearly 1.5 million residents — 41 percent of registered voters — participated in a special election in the 7th Congressional District and the presidential primary elections that occurred throughout the state over a six-week span.
Linda Lamone, election administrator for the state’s board of elections, presented this and other information Tuesday before a joint briefing on the election process before the state Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs and House Ways and Means committees.
Lamone said the coronavirus forced quick changes such as traditional and digital voter education outreach, virtual meetings to train election workers and order thousands of drop-off ballot boxes, masks, hand sanitizer and other materials.
Lamone said the board waits for information from six vendors and requested documents from each by July 6.
“These elections brought a new way of voting for most voters and were conducted in unprecedented times,” she said. “There are areas we could’ve done better. We learned from this election and will make the necessary changes for the November election.”
The election season was certainly not without its mishaps. Several weeks before the April 28 special election and between the June 2 primary, some voters’ mail-in ballots arrived late or not at all, printing errors cropped up in Baltimore City on Election Day and Spanish-language voting instructions were sent to 90,000 Prince George’s County voters. Those voters eventually received instructions in English a few days later.
Primary election ballots were dated April 28, the original Election Day date that was changed amid the coronavirus pandemic once the state decided on a primarily mail-in election.
Nevertheless, election data shows the June 2 primary had the second-highest voter turnout since 1998 at 41 percent. About 48 percent of Baltimore City voters came out, undoubtedly spurred by the high-profile mayoral race won by City Council President Brandon Scott.
The majority-Black jurisdictions of Prince George’s County and Baltimore recorded an increased voter turnout from the 2016 primary at 9 percent and 3 percent, respectively.
Del. Nick Mosby (D-Baltimore City), who won the Baltimore City Council president seat, said numbers posted on election night “were haphazardly” taken down off the board’s website without communication to voters. The problem occurred from a particular district in the city where results were posted June 2 at about 9 p.m., but then removed hours later at 2:30 a.m.
“The biggest issue for me is the lack of transparency and communication,” Mosby said. “There was no communication with the state board of elections in two days.”
Lamone agreed and provided an explanation.
“It needed to be transparent. It was late at night. I’m not making excuses,” she said. “People were exhausted. They did not want to take the chance of putting up figures of not only … District 1, but other contests could’ve been wrong. They wanted to check everything out.”
However, Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) said similar challenges occurred two years ago, including new registrations and change of elections that “was a vendor problem.”
“It’s not a one-time thing,” she said. “At what point is there actually evaluation of the overall administration of the election…and not 2 a.m. reactions?”
Del. Alonzo Washington (D-District 22) of Greenbelt asked why a vendor isn’t hired from Maryland and questioned the process for holding the vendor accountable.
Election board Chair Michael Cogan declined to comment on the current vendor, SeaChange of Minnesota.
In general, Lamone said earlier the state is looking for other vendors.
“You’re going to hold them accountable by not using them anymore,” said Cogan, who added Lamone said the state plans to seek information from other vendors.
State Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles County) said voters in his jurisdiction waited at least two hours to vote on Election Day because they didn’t receive a ballot in the mail.
“This perception is there [that in] majority-Black areas, these problems always pop up and always insurmountable,” he said. “Time and time again we have problems.”
Gov. Larry Hogan called the election board’s problems “unacceptable” and ordered a report from election officials by July 3.