Dixon Leads Additional Early Results, While Proofing Error Causes District 1 Inaccuracies | WYPR

Dixon Leads Additional Early Results, While Proofing Error Causes District 1 Inaccuracies

Jun 3, 2020

India Bell waits in line at a voting center in Baltimore on Tuesday.
Credit AP Photo/Brian Witte

A day after the polls closed, there are no final results for the highly anticipated Baltimore City Democratic primaries, due to balloting issues and unanswered questions from the state and city elections boards – including a printing error that rendered ballots for the 1st council district unreadable. 

Incomplete in-person vote totals published Wednesday morning reflect earlier mail-in only data: 

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon’s lead holds at about 30% of the vote. City Council President Brandon Scott has 24% and former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller has 17%.

In the race for city council president, Del. Nick Mosby had 40% of the vote, trailed by Councilwoman Shannon Sneed with about 27%, while former Councilman Carl Stokes had about 24%.

The heated race for comptroller is tight: the partial returns show challenger Councilman Bill Henry has 51% of the vote, while longtime incumbent Joan Pratt has 48%.

But candidates in the lead are not yet celebrating: the board still needs to count ballots that were placed in drop boxes on Tuesday as well as ballots that were postmarked by the same day, which may take several days to arrive.

“No fool would call this race,” said Roger Hartley, the dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public affairs. “Imagine if there are only four ballots in the mail out there right now  – then sure, Sheila would win. But there could be 100,000 ballots out there. We just don’t know.”

The partial results were published after voting data on the Maryland Board of Elections website disappeared altogether. 

Early results posted late Tuesday night reflected about 75,000 votes cast in vote-by-mail ballots counted before primary day. They showed District 1 incumbent Zeke Cohen with 39 votes and challenger Paris Bienert with 1,882 votes. 

Both Cohen and Bienert questioned the accuracy of the votes after they were posted. Then, at 2 a.m., all of the voting data were removed. 

Julie Scharper, a PR spokeswoman contracted by the board, said the board removed the results to ensure that they were accurate and not affected by a printing error by its vendor, SeaChange. 

During the ballot printing process, the board found a proofing error in the ballot title for the 1st district Democratic race. The board said it asked SeaChange to correct the error. It was fixed in the official voting database, but not on a portion of the ballots that were mailed to voters in the district, meaning the ballots were not able to be properly counted.  

Scharper said the printing error was limited to vote-by-mail ballots for the 1st district. It had an effect only on the results of the City Council race in District 1 and on the Judge of the Circuit Court, she said.

The board will copy the results from vote-by-mail ballots cast in the 1st district race onto new ballots which will then be scanned. 

The errors, along with hectic poll lines at the six in-person voting centers in the city, have angered candidates and voters alike.

“I remain frustrated by the administrative challenges we’ve seen in this election and am calling for a transparent process moving forward,” said mayoral candidate Brandon Scott in a statement Wednesday. “When people marched and died for this right, and when voting rights are under attack at the national level, it is everyone’s responsibility to take this matter with the greatest seriousness.” 

At a press conference Tuesday night, mayoral candidate Sheila Dixon also decried the election process.

“I’m frustrated that...the Board of Elections didn’t do a better job in educating the public,” she said. “There were people, there were people in line [on primary day] who actually got the ballot at their homes. But they were confused because it said April the 28th and they felt that another ballot was going to come in.” 

Officials throughout Maryland called for the resignation of longtime elections head Linda Lamone, including Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford.

“I have lost faith,” the Republican said during a Board of Public Works meeting that Lamone attended. 

“I think it is time for some change, some new blood, some new thinking,” Rutherford continued. “You bring in a new coach from time to time…. Sometimes it’s just a little bit more to get the team over the hump and be prepared for the new environment that we’re in.”

Nancy Kopp, the state treasurer, said she didn’t believe Lamone should step down, but that she worried that voters need to have “faith and trust in the system.”

“They have to understand more clearly what is happening and what provisions are being made to ensure a full, fair election,” she said. 

Lamone did not directly address the calls for her resignation at the meeting. Instead, she said she was proud of the way her team tried to make everything work as best they could – they had a short timeframe to respond to Gov. Hogan’s March order to postpone the election, which was originally scheduled for April 28, and shift it to a primarily vote-by-mail process.

“We had virtually no time to plan for the two elections that were held a month apart, all by mail – something frankly that we had never done before,” she said. 

She said elections officials are “going to see how we can make things better and work with the local boards of elections, as well as our friends and stakeholders in the community, to deliver the best election possible” in November.

 

In a late afternoon press conference on Wednesday, Gov. Hogan said there were “obviously significant failures” in the election.

Hogan called on Lamone to prepare a full and complete report on the election no later than July 3.

“We are going to take whatever actions are necessary to make sure that those responsible correct these problems in order to safeguard our democratic process, and ensure that the November election is free of these failures and these issues,” the governor said.