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Maryland will audit all votes cast in general election

Maryland will conduct a post-election audit of all of the votes cast in the general election.

The Maryland State Board of Elections has hired a Boston-based company, Clear Ballot, to conduct a performance audit of the paper ballot system the state adopted this year. State election officials said the audit is not the same as a recount.

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According to Clear Ballot, Maryland will become the first state to audit 100 percent of the ballots cast in an election. The company said it would audit about 3 million votes over a two-day period.

Nikki Baines Charlson, the state's deputy elections administrator, said the audit will retabulate results from photographs taken of each ballot as they are fed into optical scanners at the state's polling stations. She said the paper ballots will not be counted as part of the audit.

"We want to preserve the paper ballots in case there was a recount or a contested election," Charlson said. Of the audit, she said, "it's just a way to check that the machines are working properly."

Officials were considering a statewide audit before Baltimore's primary election was marred by irregularities. State officials found that 1,650 ballots in the city were handled improperly and eight data files were missing for about a day after the election.

Charlson said an audit was conducted in three Maryland counties after the primary election as part of a pilot project. Those audits uncovered minor tabulation errors.

The general election audit will begin Nov. 11 and be completed before Nov. 18, the day local boards must certify election results. Charlson said significant discrepancies could trigger a recount in a tight race.

Meanwhile, Charlson said Maryland is one of 46 states that have sought help from the Department of Homeland Security in protecting their computer systems from hacking. She said the federal agency offered its help in monitoring state election websites and Maryland took them up on the offer.

Charlson said the acceptance did not reflect heightened concerns about ballots being hacked. She noted that vote counts are done offline at local election boards.

"Why not have another tool to look at your system to inform us how it's working?" Charlson said.

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