Advertisement
Elections

As certification deadline looms, Anne Arundel County mail-in ballot counting process plagued with delays

As a Friday deadline to certify Anne Arundel County elections looms, the county elections board is rushing to count 24,000 remaining mail-in ballots.

Since canvassing began Nov. 10, the process has been plagued with delays and hamstrung by a decision of the five-member Anne Arundel County Board of Elections to wait to count mail-in ballots until after Election Day.

Advertisement

A broken ballot scanner on the first day of counting, and about a dozen board of elections staff members calling out sick this week, has further disrupted the process, causing officials to consistently miss daily counting targets. The board is now against the clock to deliver full county results to the state board of elections on Friday.

Enough ballots have been counted to settle some races, including incumbent County Executive Steuart Pittman expected to win a second term. Challenger Jessica Haire conceded on Tuesday. Other races for County Council, sheriff and Maryland General Assembly seats remain unsettled.

Advertisement

The 23,748 Anne Arundel ballots left to count as of Thursday morning were the second most of any Maryland jurisdiction behind Baltimore County with 24,311. Other than Montgomery County with 17,542 remaining, the rest of the jurisdictions have less than half the remaining ballots to count that Anne Arundel does.

Richard Siejack, Anne Arundel County Board of Elections deputy director, said he’s confident the team will finish counting remaining ballots by the state’s certification deadline.

“I’m an optimist,” Siejack said in a message Thursday. “We will be finished scanning all ballots tomorrow barring any machine breakdown or other unforeseen event that should happen.”

See full results here

After the July primary in which all counties were required to count mail-in ballots after Election Day, a judge decided in September that Maryland jurisdictions would be allowed to count them before Election Day during the general election. Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox challenged the decision shortly after, arguing the primary and general elections processes should be consistent.

A Maryland law, created before the pandemic popularized mail-in ballots, prohibited the counting of mail-in ballots in advance of Election Day, causing delayed primary results. It prompted the State Board of Elections to allow counties to count general election mail-in ballots early on an emergency basis. Cox argued getting timely results is not an emergency.

Several large Maryland counties, including Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s, counted ballots early. Anne Arundel County’s board voted 3-1 to not use the special exception granted by the state. Of the five board members, all selected by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, the three Republicans, Brenda Yarema, Thomas Gardner and Robert Atkins, voted to start counting after Election Day. They reasoned that counting these ballots early was not the best use of the board’s time and resources.

“Board staff are better directed to other critical functions of the election process, including voter registration, issuance of mail-in ballots to those who have requested them, preparing for and conducting Early Voting (Thursday 10/27 thru Thursday 11/3), hiring and training over 2,500 Election Judges to staff polling places on Election Day, and assembling and delivering the necessary supplies and equipment for 195 precincts,” the board said in a news release Oct. 15.

Every county elections board is composed of three Republicans and two Democrats because Maryland has a Republican governor, Gov. Larry Hogan, Siejack said. When Democratic Gov.-elect Wes Moore takes office in January, he will be required to appoint three Democrats and two Republicans to each board for four-year terms. The fifth member’s party must align with the governor’s party.

Advertisement

Trudy McFall, a Democratic member of the Anne Arundel board, voted to begin counting before the election. The other board Democrat, Tryphena Ellis-Johnson, did not attend the September meeting — at which the decision was made — and did not vote, Siejack said.

“I believe we should not prolong knowing the election results for 10 days until Nov. 18, given that we could have begun counting before Election Day and have more immediate results,” McFall said after the board’s decision in an email.

Maryland Policy & Politics

Maryland Policy & Politics

Weekly

Keep up to date with Maryland politics, elections and important decisions made by federal, state and local government officials.

The board’s decision tasked about 100 workers, divided into bipartisan teams, with counting at least 59,842 ballots across six days, and possibly more as ballots postmarked by Election Day roll in by mail throughout the week. Anne Arundel received the fourth-most mail-in ballots in the state, according to Maryland Board of Elections data. Montgomery County received 111,207 while Baltimore County had 78,591 and Prince George’s had 65,898.

In addition to complications like the broken ballot scanner and illness among the staff, workers have been hampered by the tedious process of transferring nearly 7,000 email ballots from printer paper to cardstock. That prevented the team from meeting their daily goal on Monday. Another three scanners have now been activated to scan ballots at the Glen Burnie office to get it done on time, Siejack said.

“The whole thing that holds this whole thing up is the speed of the scanner. The scanner can only go so fast. We can give it 20,000 ballots and it’s going to take 10-15 hours to scan,” Siejack said. “It’s hurry up and wait.”

Advertisement

Advertisement