Maryland Programming Problems Could Affect Nearly 19,000 Voters on Eve of Election Day

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Over the weekend, Maryland announced that it had discovered an election-eve issue with its voter list that could force nearly 19,000 voters to cast provisional ballots during Tuesday’s state primary. The Washington Post has more:

Nearly 19,000 Maryland voters will have to file provisional ballots if they want to participate in Tuesday’s primary, after the state Motor Vehicle Administration failed to transmit updated voter information to the State Board of Elections, officials said Sunday.

The MVA and Board of Elections attributed the error to a programming glitch, and said it affects about 18,700 individuals who updated their addresses through the MVA’s website or self-service kiosks between April 22, 2017, and June 5, 2018. Officials said a “computer programming error” prevented the transmission of updated addresses and party affiliations to the Board of Elections in cases where voters changed their address but did not buy a driver’s license, vehicle registration or title, or identification card.

“We are deeply sorry about what happened and we’re dedicated to fixing it and making sure it doesn’t occur going forward,” MVA Administrator Christine Nizer said Sunday. “We’re going to put additional measures in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

State officials said they plan to send notification emails to the 17,600 impacted voters who have emails on file with the MVA, and efforts are underway to identify all of the impacted voters and notify local elections officials. The office of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) assured residents that every vote would be counted.

“The Hogan administration takes the right to vote extremely seriously and no Maryland voter will be denied the franchise,” Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said.

Ironically, the problem stems from an effort to make the voting process more convenient for Marylanders but allowing them to check and update their records during a visit to a motor vehicle office:

State officials said voter rolls at local precincts could not be updated in time for Tuesday’s primary because there is no digital mechanism for doing so. Affected voters were advised to use the state’s polling place locator website to determine where to vote, and file a provisional ballot at that location on Tuesday. [That same information is also available at the Voting Information Project’s – DMCj]

In April 2017, the MVA began allowing residents to streamline their visits by applying for driver’s licenses and ID cards online, and completing the process in person.

But some customers using the website or in-person kiosks were simply updating their addresses, a process that initiates questions on whether they want to notify the State Board of Elections of the modification or change their party affiliation. Among the 18,700 individuals who changed their addresses, about 7,300 also changed their party affiliation — and neither modification was recorded. Nizer said the MVA discovered the larger issue after learning about a case affecting one individual who had changed their address.

“When programming changes were made to provide the ability to start your application for a driver’s license or ID card from home in April 2017, the computer language was modified to not send voter registration information to the State Board of Elections if the customer didn’t buy a product,” MVA said in a written question-and-answer document. “Unfortunately, [Maryland Department of Transportation] MVA computer programmers did not account for customers being impacted if they visited the e-store and kiosk just to change their address with the MDOT MVA without purchasing a driver’s license, ID card, vehicle registration, title or other item.”

Obviously this isn’t what Maryland wanted right before the primary, but these kinds of motor vehicle/elections problems have occurred in other states before and seem to be an occasional (unwelcome) byproduct of the effort to streamline the voting experience. Here’s hoping that voters aren’t too inconvenienced in the short term and, in the long term, that the two agencies can restore the lines of (data) communication. Best of luck to everyone on both side of the table in the Old Line State tomorrow … stay tuned!

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