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Maryland delays release of Election Day returns to Thursday after slow transfer of data from counties' voting centers

State election officials have delayed the release of Election Day returns for three of the state’s largest jurisdictions to Thursday after failing to post the information on election night and later promising the data on Wednesday.

Complete returns for in-person voting on Election Day will not be released until Thursday for Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Baltimore counties, state deputy election administrator Nikki Charlson announced Wednesday afternoon.

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Delayed results for Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties, two other large jurisdictions that also saw no Election Day results on Tuesday night, were updated just before 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Election returns were released late Tuesday for the state’s other 19 counties. Early voting results from across the state have been released, as have preliminary results from the more than 1.3 million mail-in ballots cast.

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State officials initially blamed the delay on the length of time it was taking to upload data from counties to the state’s central database.

Because voters could cast ballots at any center in the county where they live, software checked for data from each precinct in the county during the transfer of information from thumb drives used in scanners at counties' voting centers. When a center in one part of a county had no voters from a precinct far away, the system would prompt an election official to confirm there were no votes from that area.

That slowed the process down. Typically, it takes two to three minutes to transfer information from a thumb drive. Because it was taking four times that long early Wednesday, election officials decided to halt reporting about 1 a.m., Charlson said.

“It is low-tech because that is the most secure way to transfer those election results,” she said. “That is how voting systems typically operate.”

By Wednesday afternoon, several jurisdictions had halted the initial upload of data that is used just for election night reporting purposes and were instead focusing on a second upload process to a “certified network.” That process, which typically happens the day after an election, starts from scratch. First, officials re-upload early voting information and then move on to Election Day totals, Charlson said.

Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Baltimore counties do not expect to complete that process until Thursday, Charlson said. She acknowledged that some local school board and judicial races hang in the balance.

Maryland still has provisional ballots to count as well as any mail-in ballots that arrive before Nov. 13.

Counties across the state had centralized voting centers to pool staffing and equipment and reduce the risk from the coronavirus. After the more than 300 voting centers across Maryland closed Tuesday night, returns from early voting, as well as the number of mail-in ballots counted so far, were released. Then, Election Day returns began to come in from the 474,749 people who voted Tuesday.

The more voters a county has, the more voting centers it had, so the delays affected the biggest jurisdictions.

Information from 15 of the 160 thumb drives used in Anne Arundel County and 12 of the 80 thumb drives used in Baltimore City reached the state Tuesday night.

No information was transferred from Baltimore County on Tuesday night due to a problem with a shared “utility,” Charlson said late Wednesday. That utility typically pushes results from the county to the state every five minutes. At some point last night, that stopped working, she said.

The utility was repaired Wednesday and some but not all of the results from Baltimore County’s 128 thumb drives were transferred, Charlson said.

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Forty-two of the 292 thumb drives used in Montgomery County were uploaded and six of 440 in Prince George’s County.

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