State elections officials vowed that they would learn from the mistakes of the June primary election even as they praised staff and local elections officials.
Maryland conducted its first mostly by mail election in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The comments at Thursday’s state Board of Elections meeting came one day after an often contentious hearing with lawmakers who demanded but received few answers about why the primary was beset with a number of highly publicized missteps.
Chairman Michael Cogan opened the meeting praising state and local elections staff and referenced the hearing from a day earlier.
“As we noted, the elections weren’t perfect and we know that and in fact we have a number of documents now coming to us pointing out items that went wrong in a variety of places,” said Cogan. “But what I wanted to say to all of you who worked on the elections, who were out in the trenches is how very proud we are of the work you’ve done.”
Cogan then went on to quote President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 address, sometimes referred to as “The man in the arena” speech, in a message perhaps also meant for lawmakers, saying, in part: “”It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.”
Cogan and the state elections staff, including longtime Elections Administrator Linda Lamone, have come under scrutiny for a number of issues during the June 2 election — one which by necessity was hastily moved from a traditional polling place election to one that was to be mostly conducted by mail because of public health concerns.
There were thousands of ballots returned because of a lack of correct addresses, long wait times at the few open polling places — particularly in areas of high numbers of minority voters — and ballot snafus that saw tens of thousands of ballots mailed late to Montgomery County and Baltimore city and city ballots that contained errors. It all added up to election returns being temporarily pulled from a state website.
Two weeks ago, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, a Republican, and Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, each called for Lamone to step down.
Firing Lamone is difficult under a change in state law made in 2005 that requires four of five members of the board to vote to remove her coupled with the approval of a replacement by the Maryland Senate.
Cogan and Lamone Wednesday acknowledged difficulties but gave limited answers to questions from lawmakers. In one instance, Lamone blamed SeaChange, a vendor responsible for the ballots, for issues related to mailing and proofing errors.
The response irritated some on the House Ways and Means and Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committees.
“It’s always the vendor, the vendor,” said Del. Alonso Washington, D-Prince George’s. “Are we suing this vendor? What are we doing to hold this vendor accountable?”
Lamone and others declined to elaborate on issues related to SeaChange, citing the potential for a lawsuit.
Speaking Thursday, elections staff said they were reviewing options, including the potential selection of a new vendor.
“We are committed to making the changes needed and ensuring that the mistakes are not repeated because we want to have a very successful November election,” Lamone said.