ANNAPOLIS — State election officials told the Board of Public Works Wednesday that they had underestimated by $1.6 million the cost of maintaining Maryland’s voting system.
The board, minus Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who was not in attendance, voted 2-0 to approve the contract modification, largely to cover the cost of four employees whose salaries were underestimated by roughly 3,000 hours. The contract with Chicago-based Elections Systems and Software is expected to grow when officials seek approval for more voting machines to help alleviate long lines at polling places that occurred in 2016.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, who along with Gov. Larry Hogan and Kopp comprises the board, questioned elections officials about the “miscalculation” during Wednesday’s meeting.
“When this contract was originally up for approval before the Board of Public Works the original number of hours was set at 1,000 for the 2018 election cycle,” Franchot said speaking to Maryland Elections Administrator Linda Lamone. According to this request, that number should have been 4,000 hours. How does that kind of mistake happen — 1,000 to 4,000?”
Franchot expressed concern about what he said was “a 400 percent increase” in hourly expenses.
Lamone said it wasn’t a miscalculation but an attempt to have all the bidders provide a cost for their respective systems based on 1,000 hours.
“It was not a miscalculation,” Lamone said. “We knew we needed more hours.”
The error occurred when elections officials initially wrote their request and sought to have each bidder provide costs based on 1,000 hours.
“We did that because we wanted to be able to compare apples to apples among all the different responses,” Lamone said. “But when we did that, we didn’t realize that once we accepted one of the bidders that that became part of the contract and we could not then just alter it from 1,000 hours to 4,000 hours. It was our mistake in the way we drafted the (proposal).”
Lamone told Franchot and Hogan that her agency was working to ensure future contracts would not be written in a similar fashion.
The contract, initially valued at more than $9 million, was modified last year by adding $500,000.
The costs are expected to go up in the near future when elections officials come back to the board to seek approval for more ballot-reading machines expected to help reduce long lines seen during the 2016 election.
“Some of the counties have come in and asked for additional equipment. Several are because the law mandates that they have additional early voting centers, and then there’s Baltimore County across the board,” Lamone said.
Many of the machines, for which the state traditionally picks up 50 percent of the cost, will go to Baltimore County. That county had some of the longest voting lines in the state because many polling places didn’t have enough equipment.
“There were people just beside themselves, voters coming out of the polls saying that they obviously got in, they voted and had an up to two-hour wait for the one scanner in each (poll) to reproduce, Xerox, their ballot,” Franchot said.
“It’s what tears apart people’s confidence in local government, frankly,” said Franchot.
“If I were in charge of Baltimore County I would right now pay entirely for the new scanners and apologize to the voters up there for what happened last time,” Franchot said.
The delays resulted in legislators from the county writing to the governor and other members of the Board of Public Works asking for additional money for more machines.
Lamone said the county is now addressing the issue.
“It was the county’s judgment at the time that one scanner would be enough. We offered additional equipment … Baltimore County decided not to do that,” Lamone said. “Now they realize.”