Election hiccups in Maryland: Delays, long lines, adjusting to paper ballots

Some Baltimore polling places didn't open until well after the official 7 a.m. start to Election Day.

After enduring a nasty presidential campaign that began over a year ago, some Maryland voters had to wait a bit longer Tuesday to cast their ballots as long lines, scattered malfunctions with a new paper system and even an electrocuted squirrel caused delays.

Despite the heavy turnout — spurred by the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — state and local election officials said the new paper ballot process held up.

Steady streams of voters started filing in at 7 a.m. and remained in line well after 8 p.m. at some polling places. While many people who were in line before polls closed were allowed to stay and vote, state election officials did not order any emergency extensions to operating hours.

"We had some wait times, but that's been true all over the country," said Linda Lamone, Maryland's elections administrator, who predicted that when all the votes were counted, the turnout would surpass that of the last presidential election.

In 2012, when President Barack Obama faced off against Mitt Romney, about 74 percent of Maryland's 3.7 million registered voters cast ballots. This year, there are 3.9 million registered voters in the heavily Democratic state, which Clinton won Tuesday.

Election officials implemented a paper ballot system this year. Fewer than 20 of the 2,900 ballot scanners malfunctioned on Tuesday, election officials said.

In one area of Frederick County, wait times were caused by nature, not the machines.

Around 5:30 p.m., a squirrel climbed up a pole and was electrocuted on a transformer that provided power to the polling place at Urbana Elementary School, said Stuart Harvey, the county's elections director.

Emergency battery backups as well as a generator set up by volunteer firefighters from the fire station next door kept the process running until power was restored at 6:30 p.m.

"They never missed a beat." Harvey said, adding that the delays were minor.

In Baltimore County, voters reported more than two-hour waits in precincts with only one ballot scanner. In several polling places, the scanners broke down, requiring voters to place their ballot sheets into secured boxes affixed to the machines, said Paul Lubbell, president of the Baltimore County Board of Elections.

"No one was left without a scanner for more than an hour or so," Lubbell said.

The city also had problems, but nothing close to those in April's primary election that led the state to briefly decertify those results.

Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., Baltimore's election director, said he estimated about 200,000 voters cast ballots Tuesday, just short of the 208,000 who voted in 2012.

"We might get a little higher than that," Jones said.

One polling place, Beth Am synagogue, opened about 45 minutes late Tuesday morning after a judge stormed out in frustration, leaving two poll workers alone. Jones and seven stand-by election judges stepped in to get the precinct up and running.

Eric Hontz, a Reservoir Hill resident who works at a nonprofit in Washington, said that in April he gave up after waiting an hour and a half to vote and returned in the evening. On Tuesday, he arrived at 7 a.m. and waited two hours to vote.

"It seems ridiculous that it's the same polling place, and it's happened two elections in a row," Hontz said.

In some cases around the state, voters reported finding the second pages of their ballots had already been filled out. Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said investigations revealed that election judges mistakenly handed out ballots that other voters had started to fill out but abandoned.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot said polling places handled the large crowds effectively. But he was concerned about the divisiveness he saw as he greeted a steady stream of voters in Northeast Baltimore.

He found an electorate with "very, very strained feelings."

"Whatever happens today, tomorrow I am going to suggest to [Republican Gov. Larry Hogan] we go out and have some town meetings to remind Marylanders we're Marylanders first, and Democrats and Republicans second, just to lower the temperature," said Franchot, who is not on the ballot this year.

Margaret Guth, 72, exhaled with a sigh relief as she left Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Baltimore County. She voted for Clinton.

"I'm glad it's over," Guth said, "but maybe the fun is just going to start."

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Yvonne Wenger, Tim Prudente, Colin Campbell, Andrea McDaniels, Catherine Rentz, Erika Butler, David Anderson, Chase Cook, Meredith Newman, Cindy Huang and Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this article.

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