Elections workers from across the region descended Monday on Baltimore to launch a precinct-level review of the city's primary — days after the state took the unusual step of ordering the results decertified amid irregularities.
In a West Baltimore warehouse on North Franklintown Road, dozens of workers under the state's direction began organizing documents. The state is investigating why the number of votes in the city's April 26 primary election was higher than the number of people who checked in at the polls.
The work began hidden from public view, drawing criticism. Workers told members of the public — including several reporters — they were not welcome inside to observe the process.
State election administrator Linda H. Lamone said the public wasn't allowed into the warehouse because it has private voter and election information inside. The brick warehouse is where city elections officials store voting machines.
But by Monday afternoon, state elections officials changed their stance, sending an email saying they planned to allow members of the media and campaign representatives to watch the review on Tuesday.
"Media and candidates will be permitted to access the secured facility and observe the on-going process of reviewing and reconciling documents from the 2016 Primary Election," the message said. "To ensure the integrity and security of the equipment and documents, the observation area will be limited."
Linda Eberhart, a supporter of former Mayor Sheila Dixon's campaign, was among those barred from entering the building Monday. She said such an action violated election guidelines regarding the openness of the process.
"They're verifying results in there. ... This process has to be open so people can trust what it is," Eberhart said.
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said he, too, was concerned by the private review.
"It should be a public process," Young said. "Whoever wants to watch, they should be allowed to watch — without any interference. I think the public should be engaged in these kinds of things."
Workers from Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties joined city and state officials sifting through election documents. Lamone said workers likely would tally voter check-ins, votes and provisional ballots Tuesday.
Baltimore's primary election produced several close races. State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh defeated Dixon in the Democratic primary for mayor by about 2,400 votes, and three City Council races were decided by a few hundred votes. Pugh declared victory on election night. Dixon had said she wouldn't mount a legal challenge to the election but backed off that pledge after the results were decertified.
For several weeks, a group of activists has been raising concerns about the integrity of the April 26 primary in Baltimore.
Among the issues: Eight data files went missing for about a day after the election, and some polling precincts opened late. And 34 released felons — eligible to vote under a new law — received a Board of Elections letter before the primary erroneously telling them they might not be able to vote.
Last week, state election officials ordered the results of Baltimore's primary election decertified and launched the precinct-level review of irregularities.
Lamone said she became concerned when city officials — who certified their primary election results last week — later reported they had found 80 provisional ballots that had not been analyzed.
The discrepancy between the number of checked-in voters and number of ballots cast appears to have occurred because voters or election judges scanned provisional ballots at polling places from residents who might not have been eligible to vote, Lamone said.
But Lamone said it could prove impossible to figure out which of those provisional ballots represent legitimate votes.