Critics say city elections board fumbled on primary day

May 3, 2016

Catherine Pugh on primary day
Credit John Lee

The race for the city’s 12th Council District is close. Robert Stokes Senior has a lead of about 350 votes over Kelly Cross. And Cross says in one of the precincts in the district, the thumb drive that had the tallied votes went missing for a day. 

Cross says he plans to demand a recount of the backup paper ballots in that precinct to make sure the votes on that thumb drive were not tampered with. And he wants the board of elections to pay for that recount.

“This is an issue where the board of elections failed,” Cross says. “One of their core functions, in my opinion is to ensure the chain of custody for paper ballots and the electronic facsimiles of those paper ballots.”

Cross also complained that one polling place in Mount Vernon opened more than one hour late, and that numerous voters were given the wrong ballots.

But Cross’s complaints aren’t the only ones. The City Board of Elections is on the defensive both from campaigns and activists who say there were problems with the voting in last week’s primary.

Four polling places in the city were ordered to stay open an extra hour on election night because they opened late that morning. And Dixon campaign spokeswoman Martha McKenna says they’re getting reports that many other polling places had delayed openings, and in at least one case, a precinct opened more than an hour and a half late.

“People are coming forward and saying when they left their polling place there were 13 other people who had left,” McKenna says. “Large groups of people who had to go to work and couldn’t wait in line any longer for their polling places to open.”

Political activist Hassan Giordano plans to hold a news conference today to call for the heads of City Elections Director Armstead Jones and the city board of elections. Giordano says there was gross negligence on the part of Jones and the board.

“We’ve had issue after issue that’s been raised by voters across this city that puts the integrity of this election in question,” he said. Citywide, eight thumb drives went missing for a while from precincts on election night. Or maybe they didn’t. Jones says he doesn’t consider them missing.

This kind of thing happens occasionally, he says, especially after a long election day. Once they realized the thumb drives were not to be found, election officials went looking for them. They found them in a bag here or a precinct there.

Jones says the integrity of the election was not compromised, pointing out there are those backup paper ballots. And Jones shrugged off Giordano’s call for him to lose his job.

“I’m trying to certify an election,” he said. “And that’s what I plan to continue to do.”

Jones says elections workers will start counting at least 7,400 provisional ballots on Wednesday. And absentee ballots are still coming in. He says he needs to wrap it all up by Friday and send the results to the state for certification.

But Giordano, who was a volunteer in the Dixon campaign, wants the Governor to step in, stop any certification and launch an independent investigation into the city elections.

Dixon trails Catherine Pugh by about 3,000 votes, and even Giordano doesn’t think anything will change that outcome.

The Dixon campaign’s McKenna says it is premature to talk about a recount in the Mayor’s race.

“Our primary goal is to make sure every one of the almost 140,000 Baltimore residents who voted in this election have their ballots counted,” she said. McKenna says they are still waiting to get specific data from the Board of Elections that breaks down the the votes, as well as provisional, absentee and spoiled ballots.