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Maryland Elections Head Lamone Blames Primary Problems On Mail-in Ballot Vendor

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MARYLAND GENERAL ASSEMBLY/SCREENSHOT VIA WYPR
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State legislators grilled top election officials on Tuesday about Maryland’s problem-filled June 2 primary, which included hours-long voting lines, delays for the arrival of Baltimore City mail-in ballots and temporarily deleted preliminary results.

Maryland State Board of Elections Administrator Linda Lamone, along with her board colleagues, appeared before the House Ways and Means and the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committees to answer lawmakers’ questions and explain the errors.

She maintained that pulling off the state’s first mail-in election’s logistics in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in a compressed timeline was difficult.  

 

Baltimore City’s election had major problems, including mail-in ballots that arrived weeks after ballots that went to other parts of the state and a proofing error that rendered some District 1 mail-in ballots inaccurate. Lamone said that caused the board to delete preliminary results late on election night.

Del. Nick Mosby, a Baltimore Democrat, asked Lamone why the board thought it was appropriate to pull those results without explanation. 

“The biggest issue for me is just a lack of transparency and communication,” said Mosby, who won the Democratic primary for Baltimore City Council President.

“I agree with you totally,” Lammone answered. 

She said board members discovered the District 1 mail-in ballot error around 2:30 a.m. and were fearful that the rest of the results may have been inaccurate, too.

“It was late at night. I'm not making excuses,” Lamone said. “People were exhausted and they did not want to take the chance of putting up figures that... could have been wrong. We’ll make sure it never happens again.”

Lamone said that SeaChange, the mail-in ballot vendor, told the board that the Baltimore City ballots were in the mail when they weren’t. Armstead Jones, the Baltimore City election director, has said that he flagged the District 1 ballot issue in February, but that SeaChange sent out errant District 1 ballots anyway.

SeaChange is based in Minnesota. Lamone said the board has been trying to secure a local ballot contract for years, but that no Maryland companies have met the board’s requirements. 

She added that the board is looking for a new ballot vendor for November and that six other vendors have submitted test ballots so far.  

Sen. Arthur Ellis, a Charles County Democrat, asked the board why voting accessibility issues such as incorrect ballots and long lines to vote seem to occur more often than not in majority-black areas like Baltimore City. 

“We take seriously any deficiencies in the voting system,” Michael Cogan, the chairman of the board, replied. “It would be extremely useful for us to examine that to see if, in fact, that perception is correct.”

Cogan and Lamone both said that lessons learned from the primary will be applied come November. Lamone asked Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this spring to decide if the November general election will be held by mail by mid-June. He has not yet issued a decision. 

 

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.