In an emergency meeting Wednesday, the Maryland Board of Elections added two in-person voting centers in Baltimore for the June 2 primary to give city residents more opportunities to vote after ballots were significantly delayed in arriving by mail.
Yielding to numerous calls from candidates, legislators and voting rights groups, the board met to approve the additional polling places, expanding the city total to six.
Because of the ballot holdup, state election officials already had increased the number of ballot dropoff boxes in the city from five to 15.
The board and its staff have been the subject of criticism since it was revealed the ballots destined for Baltimore’s more than 330,000 eligible, registered voters were mailed a week later than scheduled. Some ballots began to arrive this week, but many have yet to arrive.
Ballots must be postmarked by June 2 or placed in the drop boxes that day. The primary is being held largely by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic. Citizens also have the option of voting at the in-person centers.
Top state officials added their voices to the growing chorus of concern over the missing ballots.
On Wednesday, during a Board of Public Works meeting in Annapolis, Republican Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said the problem is the just the latest to plague state elections. He pointed to voting locations that ran out of ballots in 2018 and issues with voting machines in 2014 and 2016.
Rutherford said people who’ve complained to him and Gov. Larry Hogan have told them they should fire state elections officials. That’s not legally possible, Rutherford acknowleged. The state elections board, a bipartisan panel appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate, appoints the elections administrator.
“It’s very disappointing. It’s to the point of being outrageous with regard to what’s going on over at the State Board of Elections,” Rutherford said.
Maryland elections officials blamed the delayed mailing Tuesday on the vendor they’d hired. Minnesota-based SeaChange assured election officials that Baltimore’s ballots were in the mail as of May 8. State officials did not learn otherwise until last weekend, said Nikki Charlson, the state’s deputy elections administrator.
“After the election, we will require a full accounting with a particular focus on Baltimore City ballots,” she said Tuesday in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.
A representative for SeaChange referred questions Wednesday to the state elections board.
Issues with 2020 ballots involving SeaChange were not limited to Maryland. As Maryland officials scrambled to get ballots from SeaChange in Minnesota to Maryland, they discovered an unknown number of ballots destined for Charleston, South Carolina, mixed into the Maryland shipment.
More than a dozen South Carolina counties use the vendor.
Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the South Carolina Board of Elections, said Wednesday that his board already had reservations about SeaChange. That’s because for South Carolina’s February presidential primary, he said, the company failed to mail ballots to one county.
“Now, we’ve got ballots in Baltimore, which is not good,” he said. “Unless we’ve got some voters in Baltimore, some South Carolinians in Baltimore, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here.”
Whitmire said his board is warning counties in his state against using SeaChange in the future.
Maryland’s has contracted with SeaChange since 2018, initially as a subcontractor. The vendor became the state’s primary contractor in 2019. The state elections board did not respond Wednesday to a request by The Sun for the contracts.