What we learned from Tuesday’s primary election in Maryland, from a ballot error to long lines

The votes are still being counted, but we already know at least this much about Maryland’s primary election:

Ballot error in District 1 race, early city results temporarily disappear from state website

An error on ballots mailed to voters in Baltimore’s District 1 led to inaccurate results that cannot be counted, state election officials announced Wednesday.


In a statement issued Wednesday morning, the State Board of Elections wrote that a “proofing error in the ballot title” for the primary race between democratic candidates Paris Bienert and incumbent Zeke Cohen “was not corrected on a portion of the ballots that were mailed to voters.”

The board wrote that while officials requested SeaChange, the state’s printing vendor, to correct the error during the printing process, ultimately some improper ballots were mailed and “vote by mail styles for District 1 could not be counted properly."


“The State Board of Elections is working to assess if vote by mail ballots outside of District 1 were impacted, but is not aware of any other inconsistencies at this time,” the board wrote. “It appears that the impacted contests are Council District 1 and judge of the Circuit Court.”

The State Board of Elections at about 11:30 pm last night posted what officials said were early results from about 75,000 ballots sent in by mail and collected from drop boxes through the weekend.

Both Democrats in the race raised questions about early returns as they were posted Tuesday night showing Cohen, a member of City Council for four years, with only 39 votes while Bienert had 1,882.

At about 2 a.m. Wednesday, the city’s early returns no longer appeared on the state site and were instead marked as “NR” for not reported. The results were back online shortly before 11 a.m.

Baltimore election officials could not be reached. Officials from several of the mayoral campaigns also are seeking clarity but said they have not received information from the city or state this morning.

People wanted to vote in person

While elections officials strongly encouraged voters to cast their ballots via the mail or drop boxes distributed across the state, voters proved that many still wanted to show up to the polls in person, particularly in Baltimore City.

By the end of the day Tuesday, 42,451 people voted in person across the state, 6,236 of them in Baltimore. While Baltimore’s total accounted for only 2% of the eligible registered voters in the city, it was double the percentage of voters who opted for in-person voting during an April special congressional election in District 7 when Maryland officials first tried widespread vote-by-mail.

John Willis, Maryland’s former secretary of state, said turnout among voters who did not receive their ballots in the mail was easy to predict. But elections officials also needed to account for voters unprepared for the cultural change of voting by mail. Trying to shift the public’s mindset so quickly wasn’t realistic, he said.


Many voters in line Tuesday said they received ballots at their houses but preferred to vote in person.

“I just didn’t trust the drop-off,” said Tamika Patterson, a 41-year-old Baltimore City resident who voted at Northwood Elementary School on Tuesday morning.

Erica Davis got her ballot in the mail, but she prefers to vote in person, rather than casting her vote through the mail. Voting in person leaves less room for error, and it also carries a greater sense of civic duty, she said.

“It feels much more that you’re out there doing it,” Davis said. “Mail-in should be for people who are physically unable to come out and vote. ... People fought for us to be able to vote. It’s our right.”

Baltimore’s lame-duck mayor in a time of crises

We’re not certain who won the Democratic nomination for Baltimore’s mayor, but we do know it wasn’t Bernard C. “Jack” Young, the current office-holder.

Young was a distant fifth place after the initial returns were counted Tuesday, with about 7% of the vote.


Young took over in a time of turmoil after Catherine Pugh’s resignation. He helped guide the city through its recovery from a ransomware attack.

Now, Young will have to respond to protests against police brutality that have filled the streets of Baltimore and other cities across the nation the past week, manage the coronavirus pandemic and public health crisis, and try to slow Baltimore’s relentless violent crime and homicide rates — all knowing he’ll hand the job off to someone else.

Congressional incumbents cruise

In a time of national uncertainty, Maryland voters chose familiar faces to represent them in Washington. There were no upsets in Maryland’s congressional primaries.

After winning a special election in April to fill out the remainder of the late Elijah Cummings’ term in the 7th District, U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume won the Democratic nomination Tuesday for a new two-year term by a 3-1 margin.

Baltimore-area Rep. John Sarbanes and C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, both Democrats, won their nominations by even larger margins — about 4-1. So did Maryland’s lone Republican, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, who represents parts of Baltimore County and the entire Eastern Shore.

What needs to change by November

Maryland Policy & Politics

Maryland Policy & Politics


Keep up to date with Maryland politics, elections and important decisions made by federal, state and local government officials.

Two major problems: Ballots weren’t delivered soon enough and there weren’t enough places to cast a ballot in person Tuesday.


The state has blamed a contractor, SeaChange, for late-arriving ballots. SeaChange said it received voter files late from the state.

In addition, some voters whose mailed ballots were marked as undeliverable were also recorded as having cast a vote. About 1,000 people had to use a provisional ballot to cast their vote in person Tuesday.

All of these problems need to be resolved before November’s general election — which could still be affected by the pandemic.

Amy Cruice with the ACLU of Maryland said she has recommended a logistics team that could quickly head to polling places, scan and find the bottlenecks and be dedicated to solving problems in real time.

“I’m sympathetic to the fact that we have a small number of people who work for the boards of elections and a small number of people out there at the polls, but really for November, we have to invest a lot more,” she said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Colin Campbell and Emily Opilo contributed to this article.