Photo above: Early voting in Columbia Friday.
By Glynis Kazanjian
One week into Maryland’s early voting period and six days from Election Day, ballot security and voter fraud are being called into question in a gubernatorial race that is tighter than most expected.
Republican officials and average citizens are expressing concerns over faulty voting equipment, erroneous absentee ballot mailings and the potential for voter fraud by non-citizens.
Del. Pat McDonough, R-Baltimore County, announced a lawsuit filed by four Frederick County citizens in federal court Friday seeking a mandatory review by election officials of approximately 400 Frederick County residents who declined to participate in jury duty because they claimed they were not U.S. citizens. Those same people were registered to vote, despite a legal requirement to be a U.S. citizen before registering.
McDonough said the lawsuit documents proof that approximately 100 of the “300 to 400” non-citizens have cast votes in Maryland elections since 2006.
Investigation called for to see scope of non-citizen voting fraud
McDonough has also asked the state prosecutor to investigate Maryland’s remaining counties and Baltimore City, where jury duty records were not readily available. He said he suspects there are thousands of cases where similar non-citizens haven’t been removed from the voting rolls.
“This is the first inning in a nine inning lawsuit,” McDonough said in a phone interview. “There is no question we’ve uncovered major fraud… Folks that are non-citizens that are thinking about voting in this election, when this story breaks, I think they are going to have second thoughts because they know the prosecutor is going to be looking into these votes. So this may be beneficial in trying to promote a fair election.”
McDonough has also pre-filed legislation titled the Voter Discovery Act, which would close the loophole by requiring court clerks to report the information to the state election board within 30 days of receiving it.
McDonough will announce the lawsuit on WCBM radio on Wednesday morning.
Republican press conference alleges machines are changing votes
Leaders from the state Republican Party also sounded the alarms Tuesday at a press conference in Anne Arundel County amid reports during early voting that faulty voting equipment was converting Republican-cast votes to Democratic votes.
Joe Cluster, executive director for the Maryland Republican Party, said 50 voters from 14 different counties have reported the problem to his and Larry Hogan’s campaign offices.
Many believe it is a problem with the voting machine’s calibration. Attorney Dick Haire, who is counsel to the state Republican party, said the selected choice is not in sync with the visual on the screen.
In Maryland, the candidates of the current governor’s party — Democrats — are listed first on all ballots so Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s name appears above Larry Hogan’s, the Republican nominee.
Kerry August, a Hogan poll watcher, said she experienced the calibration issue when voting for three candidates at an early voting center in Chevy Chase.
“It happened on three candidates, it wasn’t just one,” said 71-year-old August. “It took me three times to get the correct vote accepted. After the second time, I raised my hand and I related the story to the [election official]. Her quote to me was, ‘don’t worry the machines are old and this happens, so basically work with it.’ I said that was not good enough and asked for the chief judge. [I] got the same response. Eventually they did come and check that machine, and it was taken out. They refreshed my card and I went to another machine, and it was smooth as silk.”
Voters urged to review ballot, bring problems to officials’ attention quickly
Haire, and other Republicans, urged state election officials to set up a hotline for voters, but Assistant State Election Administrator Nikki Charlson said a hotline is already in place.
“We already have a hotline set up for handling questions and concerns for voters during the entire election season,” Charlson said. “Our toll free number serves as a hotline for every election we have.”
The state board of elections hotline for voters is 1-800-222-vote (8683).
Charlson said there are a handful of issues with calibration every election and there are multiple ways for voters to report problems.
“There are election judges on site, [voters] can call their local election boards and they’re calling and sending us emails.” she said. “I think the fact that we’re getting these reports shows that there is a very easy process for voters to contact election officials.”
During an election if a voting machine is flagged as having issues, including calibration problems, then the machine is supposed to be shut down. Election personnel retrieve voting data from it and the unit gets flagged for post-election evaluation.
But, election officials say, they find that more often than not, the problems originate from voter error.
Less than 20 machines reported with problems
Charlson said less than 20 voting units were reported to have problems so far. Of those, 12 have been shown not to have calibration problems, two were not tested and just shut down and for the remaining five there wasn’t enough information for election officials to make a determination.
“Some of the information we’re getting now is too far removed for us to do much with it,” Charlson said. “The best time to report it is when you’re still on your screen and you haven’t cast your ballot – or after you’ve cast your ballot and are there. Then we can begin to monitor the unit. Telling us three days later – we can’t do much with that.”
Absentee ballots had wrong return envelopes
The Montgomery County Board of Elections also reported that a vendor contracted by the state erroneously sent out a batch of 700 absentee ballots to Baltimore County voters at the beginning of the month.
“Some or all had return envelopes addressed to the Montgomery County election board,” said Montgomery County Election Board Spokeswoman Alysoun McLaughlin.
McLaughlin said the same vendor, Runbeck, sent some Montgomery County voters absentee ballots with Prince Georges County return envelopes in the 2014 primary election. And in the 2012 general election, a number of ballots had to be re-issued in Montgomery because Runbeck sent the wrong ballots to some voters.
Republican leader calls for voters to be vigilant
Sen. Joe Getty, Carroll County, the Republican minority whip, urged voters to take the extra 30 seconds to make sure their vote was cast the way they intended it to be. Republicans also called for public service announcements and flyers at precincts.
“We want to be clear,” Getty said. “These machines are old and voters need to be warned to check and double check their votes before they’re cast. We shouldn’t be in this position today. Maryland voters have expressed concerns over the last decade about the electronic machines and the Maryland General Assembly directed Gov. O’Malley in 2007 to replace the machines with a voter verified paper trail . . . by the 2010 election.”
Getty called the delay an 8-year failure by the O’Malley administration to purchase up-to-date voting equipment.
Maryland will get new paper ballot voting machines for use in the 2016 Presidential election.
Charlson would not say whether or not the state election board pushed for funding to get the paper ballot machines through sooner.
“Our budget requests are confidential,” Charlson said. “We’re not permitted to share that with anybody.”