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Some of Baltimore ballots left to be counted could be time-consuming as workers create forms to scan

If you thought Baltimore’s vote-counting process was slow already, prepare for it to get slower.

Of the approximately 12,000 ballots left to be counted as of 10 a.m. Monday, about 5,000 were ballots sent to voters by email, according to Armstead Jones, director of Baltimore’s Board of Elections.

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That means the votes must be manually copied onto ballots that can run through ballot scanners.

The work of duplication is tedious. Elections staffers work in teams, the first person calling out the votes on the original ballot as a second person fills in bubbles on a fresh copy. The teams then swap roles, with the second person reading aloud from the new ballot, while the first person checks the original responses.

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Days ago, staff started using the same process to correct a ballot error that affected voters in City Council District 1. While ballots cast by those voters were the right size for the scanner, they were missing a line of type. That caused the information to be out of alignment with what the scanner was reading.

Employees manually copied the information from the problem ballots to new ones to create ballots the scanner would read correctly. Last week, that process took a pair of workers 2½ minutes per ballot.

About 15 teams started the process Monday of recreating the emailed ballots, Jones told the Baltimore Board of Elections members during a special meeting.

When crews finished counting Sunday, there were at least 1,800 more District 1 ballots that also had to go through the process.

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Any ballots that were damaged or improperly marked must also be duplicated. Common problems include ballots marked with the incorrect color of ink, check marks next to a candidate’s name rather than filled-in bubbles, and forms that are stained or torn.

For some people, email was the only way to get a ballot for the June 2 primary. Maryland sent ballots by mail to every eligible registered voter, but not all of them made it. An unknown number were returned to local election boards, marked “undeliverable” by the U.S. Postal Service, and others were delivered to old addresses or addresses where voters such as college students had left because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some voters whose ballots were severely delayed in arriving via mail also went ahead with the process of requesting a ballot online as a precaution. Ballots arrived to city voters with less than two weeks until the primary due to them being mailed late by a state vendor.

Voters who had access to a printer were able to request email ballots. More than 42,000 such requests were made across the state by May 28, state officials reported.

The city also has yet to count provisional ballots cast on primary day. That count is scheduled for Wednesday. Jones said Monday about 2,000 provisional ballots were cast by voters who believed they were eligible to vote in the primary.

However, between 800 and 1,000 of those provisional ballots are believed to have been cast by voters registered to third parties; they are not eligible to participate in Maryland’s closed primaries. Those ballots will be rejected, Jones said.

Some of the provisional ballots were cast by voters affected by an error with the state’s pollbooks on primary day. An unknown number of voters whose ballots were returned to local election boards as “undeliverable” were told when they showed up to vote that the pollbooks indicated they had already participated. Those voters — about 1,400 across the state — were asked to fill out provisional ballots.

During Monday’s meeting, board member Joyce J. Smith asked whether state officials had offered any assistance for Baltimore’s vote-counting process.

Jones said the State Board of Elections offered to allow Baltimore officials to use another county’s vote- counting location. Two counties were recommended, he said, although he did not specify which two.

“I indicated to them that one county I know of and the other were still counting themselves,” Jones said. “It’s not as though Baltimore is the only one counting. All of these large counties are still counting.”

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