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August 16, 2019

Congressional Delegation Wants Answers on Election Snags Before 2020

Credit: Maryland Matters, Danielle E. Gaines

The Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegation are raising questions about election security and operations in the state ahead of 2020.

Maryland’s Democratic members in Congress – Senators Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, along with Reps. Anthony Brown, Elijah E. Cummings, Steny H. Hoyer, Jamie Raskin, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John P. Sarbanes and David Trone – sent a letter to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) with a series of questions detailing concerns about the 2018 election.

“Maryland voters faced significant, preventable barriers to voting on Election Day 2018,” the lawmakers wrote. They cited precincts where there were not enough printed ballots, outdated and broken voting equipment that resulted in delays, and noted that some voters waited in line for hours to vote, some of whom started receiving word of election results before they’d even cast ballots.

The lawmakers also asserted that before and after the 2018 elections there were concerns about whether voters with disabilities in Maryland are able to vote privately using ballot-marking devices. Earlier this month the National Federation of the Blind sued the State Board of Elections to force an end to what they call a segregated balloting system; the state’s response in federal court is not yet due.

The lawmakers raised concern that the number of ballots cast in a presidential election year is generally higher than gubernatorial cycles, so it’s important concerns from 2018 are addressed.

“Given the difficulties the State of Maryland faced during last year’s elections and the importance of the upcoming elections in 2020, we urge you to work with the Maryland State Board of Elections and other state and federal agencies to resolve any outstanding issues,” the lawmakers wrote to Hogan.

While the governor appoints the bipartisan members of the state’s Board of Elections from party nominees, he is not involved with day-to-day operations of the elections office.

“The members of our congressional delegation know full well that the governor has no authority over the independent State Board of Elections, but we are more than happy to forward their letter along,” Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said Thursday. “Governor Hogan is fully committed to the integrity of Maryland’s elections, and our administration regularly offers assistance to the SBE to improve operations.”

The State Board of Elections did not respond to emailed questions or voicemails on Thursday.

Hogan and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) pressed State Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone about some of the same issues – including the precinct problems – at a Board of Public works meeting in February. This week, the Board of Public Works approved three contracts intended to boost election security and operations, including a $1.39 million contract for data security services and contracts for a post-election audit and additional voting equipment.

The congressional lawmakers also raised questions about election systems hosted by ByteGrid ― a company with close ties to a Kremlin-linked Russian oligarch. The state has since shifted hosting to a Virginia-based vendor and a Department of Homeland Security team investigating the security of Maryland’s election systems found no “adversary presence” after a security review.

The State Board of Elections continues to get regular security updates, with many details shared in closed meetings of the board.

The full letter from the congressional delegation members is online.