ANNAPOLIS — A computer error at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration involving voter registration may affect as many as 80,000 voters — about four times as many as officials first estimated over the weekend and about 2 percent of all Maryland voters, state officials announced on the eve of the state’s primary.
The problem relates to changes voters made in address and party affiliation on the MVA’s website or kiosks, information that failed to be sent to the state elections board. Affected voters will need to use the provisional voting process on Tuesday to cast their ballots.
“Our administration is obviously incredibly disappointed that this happened,” said Amelia Chasse, Gov. Larry Hogan’s spokeswoman. “What matters most is that every eligible voter will be able to vote, and every vote will be counted. The governor has directed the auditor for the Maryland Department of Transportation to conduct a comprehensive review of the situation and ordered MVA leadership to make themselves available for any legislative hearings.”
The MVA said it discovered the error Friday, and the problem was only made public Saturday night. State officials first said about 18,760 people were affected. On Sunday, state Sen. Joan Carter Conway said the Senate committee she chairs would hold a hearing. After Monday’s announcement, Conway and Del. Anne Kaiser, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, called for MVA Administrator Christine Nizer’s resignation.
“The initial failure was bad, and their explanations are worse,” Conway and Kaiser said in a joint statement. “We demand the immediate resignation of Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine Nizer and anyone else who was part of the Hogan administration’s attempt to sweep this under the rug, leaving Marylanders with concerns about their constitutional right to vote on the eve of an election.”
Nizer said the agency “immediately began working around the clock to identify the scope of the problem and get information out to impacted voters.”
“In our sense of urgency to inform the public, given the close proximity of the primary election, the numbers that were initially reported did not accurately reflect the total scope of the people impacted,” Nizer said in a statement released Monday evening.
The error comes in a big election year for Maryland. Voters will choose candidates for all 188 state legislative seats in Tuesday’s primary, as well as the Democratic nominee for governor in a crowded primary. Polls have shown it to be a close contest between former NAACP President Ben Jealous and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. Hogan is unchallenged in the primary.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn apologized Monday evening.
“While all Marylanders, who are eligible to vote in this election, can vote tomorrow, the fact that their information wasn’t updated with the State Board of Elections as it should have been is unacceptable and will be remedied,” Rahn said. “I apologize to the Marylanders that count on us every day, and I assure all impacted voters that we will work overtime to make this right.”
Damon Effingham, acting director of the government watchdog group Common Cause, described the incident as “a catastrophic failure” of access to voting.
“For decades, the MVA has been one of the main avenues for Americans to register to vote,” Effingham said in a statement. “Tonight’s news represents a catastrophic failure by the MVA in their duty to ensure every eligible Marylander has access to their right to vote.”
Effingham pointed out that the provisional ballots won’t be counted until the second Wednesday after Tuesday’s primary.
Officials say the problem relates to changes to voter addresses and party affiliation made through the MVA’s website or kiosks between April 22, 2017, and June 5, 2018. If the changes were made without obtaining a driver’s license, ID card or other item, they were not submitted to the elections board for processing.
Affected voters are encouraged to verify their registration information using the state elections board’s voter look-up website. If the website doesn’t show the voter’s current address, a voter can use the board’s polling place locator to find the right voting location for the voter’s new address. Then, the voter can use the provisional voting process to cast a ballot on Tuesday.