Maryland Lawmakers, Election Officials at Odds Over Precinct-Level Results in Upcoming Mail Primary

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Maryland state lawmakers are pushing back against the Board of Elections’ plan to forgo precinct-level election returns in the upcoming statewide primary. MarylandMatters has more:

Precinct-level election results will not be possible for Maryland’s presidential primary in June, the State Board of Elections said Wednesday.

That’s because a database that could sort results by neighborhood was designed back in February ― when the state was planning a typical, in-person election and before the spread of COVID-19 forced an emergency shift to a vote-by-mail election system, Donna J. Duncan, Assistant Deputy for Election Policy, told state board members during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, lawmakers pressed state elections officials to consider reinstating a precinct-level reporting process for the election, arguing that the micro-level data would help detect any anomalies in turnout figures or voting patterns during the state’s first widespread foray into mail-in voting. The requirement to report Election Day results by precinct was waived by the State Board of Elections earlier this month.

Duncan said the precinct-level results that are typically released are made possible by collecting the data at the ballot-scanning machines in individual polling places.

State law does not require precinct-level reporting for absentee ballots, and the ballots being mailed for the presidential primary were not designed to be processed by precinct. Overseas ballots have already been sent and millions of others are already printed, Duncan said.

State officials are looking for ways to generate precinct returns in the future, but say the lift is too heavy for the upcoming primary:

Staff at the Board of Elections are exploring ways to incorporate precinct-level reporting for mailed ballots in future elections, including for next November if COVID-19 spread remains a concern, Duncan said.

She cautioned the board that creating precinct-level mail ballots would increase workload because dozens of different ballot styles would have to be generated for each county.

“It will triple, quadruple the level of work,” she said. “…It’s a labor-intensive process, but for the general, we’re seeing what we can do.”

Even as state officials look for a solution, at least one lawmaker is suggesting incoming ballots be sorted into precincts by hand:

Board member P.J. Hogan asked if there were other ways to monitor turnout abnormalities. Because the state’s voter registration database and elections results database are separate, the state will be able to generate precinct-level turnout statistics that could be analyzed.

Del. Carl Jackson (D-Baltimore County), who sent a letter to the board pressing for reinstatement of precinct-level election results, was dismayed to hear the board did not come up with a solution on Wednesday. He suggested that volunteers at local boards could still sort ballots by precinct as they’re received, though it would be a massive manpower effort.

“I just think there should be no excuse for not having this data at the precinct level,” Jackson said, noting that he would be a willing volunteer.

Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), who shares Jackson’s concerns, said she hopes the current decision on precinct-level reporting will not set a precedent for future elections.

“I do hope that we will be able to get that kind of micro-analysis if we are facing a mail-in voting situation again in November,” Kagan said.

Five states ― Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah ― conduct all elections entirely by mail and all of them release voting results by precinct, Kagan said.

It’s worth noting that the likely reason for the push for this data isn’t mentioned in this article – namely, the value of precinct-level data for political analysis of election returns for redistricting and campaign targeting. That, rather than any concern about turnout, is almost certainly why you’re seeing this insistence on more detailed returns – and why you can bet the pressure to figure out a solution before the general election will only intensify. Stay tuned …

2 Comments on "Maryland Lawmakers, Election Officials at Odds Over Precinct-Level Results in Upcoming Mail Primary"

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