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Politicsby Fern Shen7:52 pmJun 4, 20200

After re-doing bungled 1st District ballots, Baltimore will begin counting votes

City elections director Armstead Jones says he warned state officials about the 1st District ballot typo back in February

Above: At the Board of Elections warehouse, staffers review 1st District ballots after a printing error caused them to be misread. (Fern Shen)

Wearing gloves and masks and with electric fans to keep them cool, Elections Board staffers sat for hours in a West Baltimore warehouse today, correcting a problem in 1st District ballots – caused by a printing error – that has delayed the release of results from Tuesday’s primary election.

But at the end of the day, Baltimore officials provided observers with no new breakdown of the votes for the two candidates there, Councilman Zeke Cohen and Paris Bienert.

Nor had they counted votes for any other Council district – or any of the citywide races – that might give a clearer picture of those who won the primary.

“All of that will have to come from the state,” said the city’s director of elections, Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., who said a total of 3,662 ballots were corrected and re-scanned at today’s 1st District repair session.

The State Board of Elections’ website remained little changed from its earlier report that had Sheila Dixon leading with 30.5%, followed by City Council President Brandon Scott with 24.7% and Mary Miller with 16.7%.

Cohen’s lead – though diminished a bit from the initial report – was still commanding.  Late today it showed the incumbent with 63.2% and challenger Bienert with 36.8%.

June 12 Deadline

So when will Baltimore know who the primary winners are? Jones’ advice is to keep refreshing the SBE’s website in the coming days.

Tomorrow the counting will resume at the long brick building at 310 North Franklintown Road, as the staff opens up ballots from across the city.

Observers are expected from each Council district, and their number may be limited in size due to Covid-19 concerns and the tight space, officials said. They couldn’t say for sure when the counting will be done.

“We’ll be working through the weekend,” Jones told The Brew. “We’ll definitely get it done by June 12,” the deadline to certify the results.

The results on the website now reflect about 75,000 votes that were mailed or put into election drop boxes before Tuesday’s primary as well as another 3,800 votes cast in person on Tuesday, Jones said.

Other ballots remain to be counted, including those that arrived in the mail subsequently or were put into the dropboxes on the day of the primary.

City elections director Armstead Jones discusses at the city's voting machine warehouse. (Fern Shen)

City elections director Armstead Jones had little news to share at the city’s voting machine warehouse. (Fern Shen)

Jones: I Warned Them

Under the watchful eye of Bienert and her representatives today, along with two people representing Cohen’s campaign, election workers sat across from each other in pairs, with one reading out the 1st District votes, as well as Circuit Court judge votes, which were also affected by the glitch.

The other staffer would then fill in the choices on fresh ballot sheets.

The “good” and “bad” ballots were paper-clipped together, then given to another staffer who stamped each set with a number identically, then separated them and sent the corrected ballot to the scanner.

As the work proceeded, Jones watched and talked to a reporter about the printing error that caused the 1st District race totals to go awry.

“I’m being blamed for something I didn’t do”  – Armstead Jones.

That error, which led to the erroneous results reported for Cohen and Bienert, was the reason state election officials gave for why the SBE website was wiped clean of all results just hours after the polls closed.

The sudden disappearance of the data caused a furor.

“People say I should step down, but what should I step down from? I didn’t do anything,” Jones said. “I’m being blamed for something I didn’t do.”

Jones said he warned SBE officials in Annapolis about the error in the ballot produced by the vendor, SeaChange Print Innovations of Minneapolis, months before the election.

“On February 27, I emailed them about the 1st District problems,” Jones said, then adding, “I have all those emails.”

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