Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Voter registration error triggers confusion in Maryland

Voter turnout was slow on the morning of primary election day at Jacksonville Elementary School. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Voter turnout was slow on the morning of primary election day at Jacksonville Elementary School. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

ANNAPOLIS — A major voter-registration slip-up caused confusion in an important primary Tuesday as officials prepared for as many as 80,000 voters to cast provisional ballots that won’t be counted until next week, but state elections officials said they believe they were able to alert affected voters in time by email so they could cast ballots.

State officials were still assessing the fallout from a computer error at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

The problem relates to changes voters made in address and party affiliation on the administration’s website or self-service kiosks, information that wasn’t sent to the state elections board.

Linda Lamone, the state elections administrator, said voting appeared to go smoothly as of 7:20 p.m.

“If there are things, they’re little things,” Lamone said. “Because we were able to reach out to these voters by email, I’m hoping that will allay a lot of the potential confusion.”

Holly Mirabella, an attorney and social worker in Baltimore, received the email Monday that she was one of the affected voters. But she said she did not have an easy time voting in Baltimore. When she went to vote, she said the first election judge she spoke to did not appear aware of the computer error. When she spoke to someone at the provisional ballot desk, Mirabella said she was told she shouldn’t have been making address changes in an election year.

“I definitely was shocked, and I came away from the experience thinking, thank God I have the resources and privileges that I do, and I’m very concerned for folks who do not have access to the same resources or awareness,” Mirabella said.

Overall, the outcome of races might be delayed because of the number of potential provisional ballots. Election officials said they would likely not know until Friday how many such ballots were issued.

The error comes in a big election year for Maryland. Voters were choosing 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 a close contest between former NAACP President Ben Jealous and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is unchallenged in the GOP primary.

Jane Green, a 64-year-old retired federal worker in Annapolis who voted Tuesday, said she hadn’t heard of the voter registration error.

“As long as it’s not the Russians, I just put that down with, you know, things happening,” she said.

Voter turnout was very light at Annapolis Middle School in Maryland’s capital city. The school, which serves two precincts, hasn’t had a line all day, said Bob Ray, the chief election judge at the site. “I’ve been doing this for 14 years, it’s never been this light,” Ray said.

He said there had been no impact from the voter registration error at the poll. “I’m surprised,” he said. “I thought for sure we’d have some.”

At Baltimore’s main public library, located by the city’s downtown, just 309 people had cast ballots by 5 p.m. Thirty-seven Democrats had to cast provisional ballots, compared with four Republicans.

State officials have pledged to investigate.

Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the state transportation department, said the agency identified the programing mistake as “an internal error.” She said authorities hope to have it fixed by the end of the week.

The problem was discovered Friday when a state board of elections employee who changed her address realized she never received a voter notification card, Lamone said.

“And that’s why I picked up the phone and called the Motor Vehicle Administration and said, ‘What’s going on here? Why didn’t she get this notification card, and then we checked our database and it hadn’t been changed,” Lamone said Tuesday.

State officials first said Saturday night that about 18,760 people were affected and subsequently raised the number to 80,000.

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.

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.

Provisional ballots won’t be counted until July 5.

Lamone, the state elections administrator, said the timing was set long ago in regulations.

“You need the time. You have to research every one of the provisionals,” she said.


Associated Press Writer Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, and David McFadden in Baltimore contributed to this report.