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Best Week, Worst Week: P.G. medical center gets state funding; $28M electronic voting system loses out to paper ballots

Health care in Prince George’s County ended the week on a high note with the announcement of more money coming from Annapolis while election officials realized that paper not only covers rocks, but beats flawed technology, too.

Government affairs writers Bryan P. Sears and Daniel Leaderman reported Friday that Gov. Larry Hogan averted what seemed to be a guaranteed battle with Democrats in the General Assembly by approving additional construction funds for the proposed Prince George’s County Regional Medical Center.

Under the plan announced by the governor, the state will provide the $55 million to the hospital as it transitions into a new medical center operated by the University of Maryland Medical System. The state also will contribute $135 million for construction, which includes $27.5 million already allocated.

But a battle may still loom on this front: Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III both say the funds announced Friday don’t go far enough; they leave out $15 million in spending for fiscal year 2016. Both have called for the additional funding to be committed.

Health care writer Daniel Leaderman reported Wednesday that Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael Busch, both Democrats, were set to fight for the funding via a cross-filed bill that would require the state to pay an operating subsidy to help the transition to the new hospital, which will be run by the University of Maryland Medical System.

Though Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker expressed frustration with the absence of funding at a hearing Wednesday morning, Miller struck a more optimistic tone, telling reporters that he believed Hogan was fully on board.

Meanwhile, technology took it on the chin Thursday when the state was forced to scrap its new $28 million electronic ballot marking system and use paper ballots in April’s primary election.

Sears reported that change was necessitated because of a recently discovered complication involving races with more than seven candidates. Display screens on the new electronic systems display longer candidate lists on more than one page, and navigation between the pages is not intuitive, the state elections administrator said. This prompted an emergency meeting of the Maryland State Board of Elections to approve the change to paper ballots amid not-so-subtle threats about litigation.

The system, which has undergone testing over the last several months, only recently revealed the issues of concern, including the splitting up of candidates running in races where there were more than seven names. Lamone said navigation buttons were not intuitive and would push voters back to previously voted races rather than the desired earlier page of candidates.