ANNAPOLIS — Election night was a week ago, but problems at polling places around the state drew the attention of members of the Board of Public Works Wednesday.
General election night “glitches” in several counties delayed the timely release of results. Some on the three-member board Wednesday expressed concern and in some cases outright irritation as they sought answers from Maryland Elections Administrator Linda Lamone.
Comptroller Peter Franchot called the attention from national television networks “humiliating” as reporters noted on election night that Maryland still had not posted results.
“Every year during an election something like this is happening,” said Franchot, speaking directly to Lamone. “I feel like we’re living in Florida. Really, this is not acceptable.”
Lamone was at the board meeting in support of a $6 million contract for a service that recruits temporary elections support staff. That board ultimately approved that contract but not before spending 20 minutes focusing on election night concerns.
Franchot’s comments drew swift criticism from Treasurer Nancy Kopp who could be heard saying, “Oh, come on.”
Franchot called for Lamone “to make some heads roll somewhere, somehow, so someone feels as if there is accountability.”
The 2018 election came off mostly without a hitch last week at the vast majority of the roughly 2,000 polling places across the state.
Still, when polls closed at 8 p.m. results were slow to post both on the state elections website and local boards of election sites while voting continued at polling places in Baltimore, Charles, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
“It was my decision,” said Lamone. “I made it. I take responsibility for it. I instructed all the local boards to hold the early voting results until after I released the results. Some did and some didn’t.”
Delays in Prince George’s County appeared to be the worst, with as many as three dozen polling places staying open late, according to Lamone. Of those, FT Evans Elementary school in Clinton stayed open the latest as elections officials scrambled for additional ballots.
“It’s very strange because in … FT Evans Elementary School, there’s only 540 voters assigned to that polling place,” said Lamone. “Only 144 of them showed up but there was a gap of 45 minutes where they weren’t voting any paper ballots. They had run out of ballots, and we’re trying to figure out why. Did they have lot of people spoil their ballots so they had to reissue them and if that hadn’t happened they’d probably have enough ballots? We simply don’t know the answer yet.”
Elections officials can track the use of scanning machines at the individual polling places. Lamone said the scanner at the elementary school shows that at one point it had not been used for 45 minutes. Statewide, only about a dozen machines were reported to have problems.
“We don’t know what exactly happened in Prince George’s County yet. We’re still trying to gather the information because they’re still canvassing ballots and they’re busy,” said Lamone.
Lamone promised a report on the election later this year.
Kopp, while noting some problems, said overall the election went well.
“This was a very smooth election,” said Kopp. “Not at all, I believe, like Florida or Georgia and not like some we’ve had in the past.”
Kopp said there are always problems and that elections officials should find them and fix them.
“That’s exactly why we never fix these problems, because everything is just, ‘Oh, it’s just fine. It isn’t fine,” Franchot said. “The fact that there aren’t enough ballots at a polling place is completely unacceptable.”
Lamone agreed but said she doesn’t have the authority to fire people at local elections boards.
While the polls remained open, most local boards and the state delayed the posting of results. Baltimore County was an exception and posted early voting tabulations and left them up.
Soon, national television networks and the Associated Press began calling races, including the contest for the state’s next governor.
“There’s some confusion about what took place and why some polls didn’t close until two hours later,” said Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who chaired the board meeting in place of Gov. Larry Hogan. “There was some confusion in terms of the release of results where counties were releasing results but we weren’t getting state results and the networks were looking kind of strange getting information from different places.”
Lamone expressed frustration with the networks, calling it “inappropriate to release the results of the election while people are still voting.”