Early-voting cloud hangs over Maryland election


FIGHTING FOR VOTES: Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan may have lost ground due to mechanical problems reported during early voting.

By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org

As Marylanders head to the polls Tuesday, questions linger over early-voting glitches that could affect the election’s outcome.

After reporting that voting machines had flipped Republican votes to Democrats in several counties, Watchdog.org learned Monday that some of the units were not taken out of service.

Kerri Lastner, who helped her elderly mother vote on Oct. 26, said a voting machine in Baltimore County flipped candidate choices four times before finally accepting the Republican votes.

Lastner informed the Catonsville, Md., poll workers, and got what she called a “dismissive” response.

Lastner said she was told the machines would be “checked out,” but she could not confirm that any action was taken.

Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for the Maryland State Board of Elections, did not include Baltimore County in the rundown of areas that had experienced machine problems.

“Here’s a voter who knew the risk (of machine error). She did the right thing and reported the problem. She got nothing but an eye roll (from poll officials),” said Logan Churchwell, spokesman for True the Vote, a national, nonpartisan election-watch group.

The Republican Party called for an investigation into the early-voting glitches. The election board said workers could not replicate the reported problems on machines they tested.

Nevertheless, the SBE set up a special hotline eight days into the early-voting period and shared information about True the Vote’s new “VoteStand” app.

Staffers for GOP gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan said they received more than 50 reports of machines flipping votes during early voting. Charlson said the figure reported to her office was less than half that.

Charlson said all votes — including those from malfunctioning machines — would be counted.

“Election officials need to take these reports seriously and immediately check any machine with such reported problems to make sure it has been properly tested and calibrated,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission and a manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

In a statement issued a day after Lastner’s encounter, the state Election Board said it receives “similar reports in every election, and errors are almost always shown to be caused by inadvertent voter error.”

The board advised:

“Any voter who believes that a voting machine does not accurately reflect the choice the voter intended to make should alert a voting official before casting their ballot so that the problem can be remedied.”

Von Spakovsky still has questions, which remain unanswered Tuesday:

“I would like to know what Maryland’s testing procedures are on all (machines) prior to voting starting,” he said. “What exactly do they do, and do their procedures meet best practices standards?”

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for Watchdog.org. Contact him at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward