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Five Towson-area polling places to get additional ballot scanners

Five election polling places in Towson, Cockeysville and Lutherville-Timonium will each get an extra ballot scanner this election season in an effort to prevent long lines reported during the 2016 election from reoccurring, Baltimore County Board of Education Director Katie Brown said.

Most of the county’s 226 voting precincts have just one optical scanner, which reads the paper ballots, according to a county office of information technology report.

Extra scanners will be deployed to 47 precincts across the county, according to an analysis of next year’s budget.

The new scanners were purchased last fiscal year, according to the 2019 budget analysis, and will be in place for the primaries in June.

This year’s primary election is on June 26, with early voting starting June 14. Election day is Nov. 6.

Baltimore County accounted for more than 70 percent of the voting precincts at which people reported excessive lines to the state Board of Elections in 2016, according to a State Board of Elections administrative report last year. More than half of the precincts with problems struggled with scanner issues, the report said.

News reports of long lines at Baltimore County polling locations, including Rodgers Forge Elementary, spurred a study by the county's Office of Information Technology seeking to understand the problem with wait times and solve the problem. The general election brought voters to the polls for the hotly contested presidential race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

“Many people don’t have an hour to stand in line if they want to vote,” said Councilman David Marks, who represents the area.

The county’s information technology office recommended in a study that the county purchase 52 additional scanners to help move lines faster in busy precincts.

"With one scanner, it is difficult to “recover” from ballot jams,” the state elections board report said.

The 52 scanners cost the county about $60,000, The Baltimore Sun reported last year.

Second scanners will be deployed at Padonia International Elementary School in Cockeysville, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lutherville, Rodgers Forge Elementary, Cromwell Valley Elementary and Towson Presbyterian Church in Towson.

The extra scanners are being deployed to “polling sites with the highest voter-processing times [as measured at the precinct’s busiest time of day],” according to a May 7 analysis of the county’s proposed 2019 budget by the county auditor’s office.

During the 2016 election in November, Marks wrote on Facebook and Twitter that voters at Rodgers Forge Elementary were facing a two-hour wait time.

The county’s information technology office found that in addition to a high volume of voters, that precinct was slowed down by frequent misfeeds and jams in the optical scanners.

Long wait times are a “concern” because some people leave their polling place rather than wait, or do not show up in the first place, said John T. Willis, University of Baltimore government and public policy professor, who co-authored a series of studies on wait times in Maryland.

“It’s not just the convenience of the voter,” Willis said. “It’s the people who get discouraged and don’t vote.”

Willis said he believes that adding a second scanner to busy precincts will shorten lines.

Brown, county elections board director, said in an interview May 15 that the new scanners will probably not make a difference in wait times this year.

“Turnout’s never that heavy in the gubernatorial [election],” Brown said. “But it may help in those precincts in 2020.”

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