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June 05, 2020

Outcry Over Primary Election Breakdowns Gets Louder

Credit: Maryland Matters, Bennett Leckrone

Maryland’s congressional delegation on Thursday called for a review of the state’s recent primary election, adding to mounting bipartisan criticism of elections officials.

In a joint statement, Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, along with Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John P. Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony G. Brown, Jamie B. Raskin and David J. Trone, all Democrats, demanded “an urgent, thorough and rigorous review of the Maryland primary election.”

“The primary election in Maryland on Tuesday was conducted under extraordinary circumstances that required timing changes and significant adjustments to voting methods,” the statement reads. “Under this pressure, it is clear there have been a number of breakdowns in the process.”

The congressional delegation joins a slew of state officials demanding answers in the wake of the glitch-plagued election.

As mailed-in ballots continued to trickle in to local elections offices Thursday, the Baltimore City Board of Elections spent the day hand-counting ballots in the 1st City Council District, where some of the printed ballots were faulty; elections officials did not tally any results in the citywide contests for mayor, City Council president or comptroller.

Problems in Maryland’s primary were evident long before Tuesday. Many voters in Baltimore City got their ballots later than expected, and others didn’t get ballots at all. Some voters were reportedly given incorrect ballots and had to rush to the polls to vote before their mail-in ballots were processed.

The errors didn’t come as a complete surprise to Trone, who sent a lengthy list of questions and concerns to the State Board of Elections in April. Among his concerns were ballots marked “undeliverable” by the U.S. Postal Service and outreach to voters who are homeless.

“These are problems that we foresaw, and yet they still happened,” Trone said. “That’s why we need an investigation. They were on notice literally months prior to the election.”

Some officials have gone so far as to ask Linda H. Lamone, Maryland’s top elections administrator, to resign. In a mass email to state senators and delegates Thursday afternoon, State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) urged Lamone’s removal.

“The City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, and our country are already facing far too many existential challenges without corroded public confidence in the integrity of our democratic process and in the legitimacy of the outcomes,” Franchot said in the email.

Removing Lamone isn’t as simple as the State Board of Elections voting to oust her, Franchot noted. A 2005 law, referred to by some as the “Linda Lamone for Life” law, would allow Lamone to continue serving until her replacement is approved by the Maryland Senate – even if the State Board of Elections unanimously voted to oust her.

“The choice that the Senate makes on the future of Linda Lamone is one between efficient stewardship of our elections and gross administrative incompetence,” Franchot said. “It is my sincere hope that the Senate will come to the same conclusion that I and the vast majority of Marylanders have made: it is time for new, competent leadership at the State Board of Elections.”

When reached for comment, State Board of Elections Vice Chairman Patrick J. Hogan said the board would be meeting later this month to review the election, but stopped short of saying Lamone would be ousted.

“We need to get all the answers before we make that determination,” Hogan said.

Other officials have cautioned against firing Lamone in the runup to November’s general election. After Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) and Franchot called for Lamone’s resignation during Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting, Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) said she was concerned that a leadership change could disrupt preparations for the general election.

Trone also stopped short of immediately calling for Lamone’s resignation, and reiterated the need for a thorough review of what went wrong during the election.

“After an investigation, we can see where the blame lies and take appropriate action,” he said.

Lamone previously blamed a printing vendor, SeaChange, for delays and missteps in the election. P.J. Hogan echoed Lamone and said that the State Board of Elections would likely seek to replace the vendor. SeaChange, on the other hand, has blamed elections officials for delays.

During a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said he had asked Lamone for a full report on the election by July 3. He also asked the General Assembly to hold oversight hearings on how to prevent similar mishaps in the general election.

“I want to assure you that we’re going to take whatever actions are necessary to make sure that those who are responsible correct these problems in order to safeguard our democratic process and ensure that our November election is free of these failures and these issues,” he said.