Maryland’s ballot printing vendor cut ties with the state with less than 60 days before the presidential election when at least 50% of the state’s voters are expected to vote by mail, state officials announced Friday.
Nonetheless, Deputy Elections Administrator Nikki Charlson said that thanks to a second contractor, Maryland remains on schedule to finish having mail-in ballots printed by late September. That’s when they are due to be mailed to voters. Also, ballots will be mailed on time next week to members of the military and Marylanders living overseas, she said.
SeaChange, a Minnesota-based vendor that printed the 4 million ballots sent to Maryland voters ahead of the June primary, told state election officials this week that it is no longer willing to perform the work required for the contract, state officials said.
Ballot printing was supposed to begin Sept. 3.
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Mail-in ballots will now be printed by Taylor Corp., another Minnesota contractor that election officials had expected to split the work with SeaChange. The multimillion-dollar contract calls for up to 4 million ballots to be printed for voters across the state who request them.
Charlson told members of the State Board of Elections Friday that the new contract with Taylor has a lower price per ballot than the state’s $12 million deal with SeaChange. The Taylor contract has a $7 million cap, she said.
Maryland is offering several ways to vote in the Nov. 3 election: People can vote in person at an early voting center or on Election Day, or they can request a mail-in ballot that can be returned via mail or placed in a ballot drop box. The change in election format, a result of the coronavirus pandemic, has increased the state’s ballot printing demands.
Maryland’s relationship with SeaChange soured after the June 2 primary when the vendor was blamed for numerous problems. SeaChange mailed ballots late to voters in Baltimore City and Montgomery County, with voters receiving them less than two weeks before the primary. Maryland officials said at the time that SeaChange lied on multiple occasions about having sent the ballots. SeaChange officials said the state was at fault for sending them voter mailing lists late.
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Also, tens of thousands of voters in Prince George’s County were mailed instructions only in Spanish with their ballots, a mistake for which SeaChange took responsibility. The company mailed separate instructions in English.
And the results of the City Council race in Baltimore’s District 1 had to be retabulated after a formatting error was discovered on the ballots on primary night that caused them to be misread by ballot scanners. Ballots had to be manually recopied to fix the problem, a process that took several days.
Still, SeaChange’s contract was due to continue through the end of 2020. Rather than cancel the deal, Maryland officials accepted bids from other contractors to assist with the work. Taylor Corp. was the winning bidder selected for that role.
A third company, Single Point Sourcing in Pennsylvania, will print 15 million ballots to be used at early voting and Election Day sites. Printing of those ballots began on schedule the first week of September, state officials said. Test ballots printed by the company were due to arrive Friday to state election officials.
The board is also requesting sample ballots from other vendors as a contingency, state officials said.
Reached Friday, SeaChange President Wendi Breuer said her company “declined” Maryland’s offer to share the printing work with Taylor Corp. because the quantity of ballots required could be handled by one vendor.
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“We made the decision it would be best for Maryland, for the voters, for the Board of Elections to consolidate that under one vendor,” she said. “That really provides one point of contact and one point of accountability, and keeps things much cleaner that way.”
Breuer said state election officials did not submit the final terms of the contract until Sept. 4. That proposal called for SeaChange to print ballots for 18 Maryland counties, but none of the state’s largest jurisdictions. Breuer said the work from those counties would have accounted for only 20% of the printing work, while the other 80% would have gone to Taylor Corp.
Breuer said SeaChange does not consider itself to be under contract for the November election because a new purchase order was never issued detailing the specifications needed for the fall printing.
A purchase order issued by Maryland in April for ballot printing states that an indefinite quantity of ballots would be printed and mailed by SeaChange for the 2020 presidential election.
Charlson told board members Friday that Taylor Corp. impressed state election officials with its promise to privately ship ballots to Maryland and place them into the local mailstream. Officials hope that will reduce the transit time for the ballots. SeaChange mailed primary ballots from Minnesota.
The State Board of Elections also approved Baltimore’s fall voting plan during its meeting Friday. It calls for 24 voting centers and eight early voting centers in the city, including a location at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The board also approved an additional voting center at FedEx Field, home of the Washington NFL team, in Prince George’s County.