Calling for an investigative hearing on the city and state’s handling of last week’s primary election, Councilwoman Odette Ramos described the problems in her district and across Baltimore:
Mail-in ballots never sent, incorrect ballots, lack of election judges and, in several cases, chief judges who never showed up.
“Someone was assigned on the spot and expected to take over the role with no training,” Ramos recounted, in a statement read aloud at last night’s meeting. (She tested positive for Covid and could not attend.)
But the 14th District Councilwoman also noted that the city cannot force the state election director to come before them (“We will make the ask”) and acknowledged that the whole exercise might give listeners deja vu.
“I also know that this is not the first time the City Council has called the Board of Elections to come before us,” she said. “Election irregularities are not new, and my colleagues have sought to get to the bottom of election issues before.”
Reflecting recently on the problems she saw first-hand in the Northeast Baltimore area she represents, District 43-A Delegate Regina T. Boyce said the experience demonstrated to her that major changes are needed from the top down.
“It’s been a debacle, and my gut tells me it’s a leadership issue,” she said. “Perhaps a new governor can appoint new leadership, and they can put in new folks on the local level.”
Easier Said Than Done
Two years ago, after incorrect ballots and reporting errors, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan tried to oust Maryland Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone, who was first appointed in 1997.
Comptroller Peter Franchot said at the time that City Elections Administrator Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. should go, too.
Bottom line is that the Democrat-controlled Maryland Senate rebuffed these efforts, and both Lamone and Jones still occupy the top jobs.
Hundreds of Wrong Ballots
As The Brew has reported, hundreds of city voters – as well as hundreds more across the state – received incorrect ballots or no ballots in the run-up to the July 19 primary.
Some 15,000 voters statewide were identified as having been assigned to the wrong district.
On the day after the primary, returns were delayed for 24 hours while Baltimore officials searched for missing flash drives containing the vote totals for 12 precincts.
In Baltimore and Annapolis, officials have blamed the problems on the shift to mail-in ballots and on legislative redistricting, which altered some precinct boundaries and delayed the primary by a month.
While those explanations may account for some of the issues, they don’t tell the whole story, Ramos observed at yesterday’s Council luncheon, noting that the situation is “kind of crazy because the ones in my district actually weren’t redistricted.”
“This hearing will try to get to the bottom of what’s happening, and how we can avoid it happening in the future,” Ramos said.
One Voter’s Story
Speaking with The Brew, one of Ramos’ 14th District constituents, Luke Lindahl-Ackerman, who lives on Tudor Arms Avenue, shared his frustrating experience.
Despite officials saying the problems had been resolved, Lindahl-Ackerman said, “the messed-up districting/absentee ballots were not corrected but extended right up to the vote.”
• He asked on June 1 to be sent an absentee ballot by email for the primary, which was then 49 days away. But despite having requested and received absentee ballots in the past, he never got one this time.
• On July 11, the state’s online ballot status website said his ballot had been sent days earlier, but he found none in his email. A city Elections Board staffer told him the problem was statewide (“it’s not just Baltimore City”) and promised to send a new ballot link.
• On July 13, still seeing no ballot link, he called the elections board again and was told it was too late to receive a ballot through the U.S. mail. He said he was told his only options were “to come pick one up downtown or vote at the polls. I asked what would happen if I couldn’t pick one up downtown. I was told I could just vote like normal at the poll.”
After multiple attempts to get an online ballot link, he finally received a physical ballot in the mail – for the wrong district
• He received a ballot in the U.S. Mail on July 15, but when he opened it on July 18, he discovered that it was for District 46 – an error because he lives in the 40th District.
• On July 19 election day at his polling place, Hampden Elementary School, he was told that because he received an absentee ballot, he could only vote with a provisional ballot.
“At least 10 others similarly had ‘absentee ballot issued,’ but ended up having to vote provisionally ahead of me (as of 1 p.m.), according the voter log I signed,” Lindahl-Ackerman said.
He concluded that management issues lay at the heart of the problems he experienced.
“I’ve realized the older I get, that in these situations it’s very rarely, ‘Oh, there was this technology that didn’t work we need to upgrade it,’ ” he said.
“It’s more often, ‘We just didn’t manage what we have right.’”
“People were so upset”
Untangling and fixing what ails election management in the city and state won’t be easy, said Boyce who, along with her 43-A ticketmate, Elizabeth Embry, saw multiple snafus in the run-up to their successful wins in the primary.
Boyce said she thought of the people who juggled childcare and work schedules to vote and, especially, a 97-year-old woman who struggled in the heat to walk up a ramp at a polling place where there was no wheelchair.
“People were so upset with the idea that their vote might not be counted,” Boyce said. “We do a disservice to them if we don’t get this right.”
Political leaders need to stop normalizing the problem because it seems intractable, she continued.
“When comments are made that these are just mishaps and when we dismiss mistakes that are made – that’s got to end.”