Dan Tokaji's Blog
Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Tuesday, September 12
The Mess in Maryland
The story of the day are the problems in today's primary election in Maryland, where the voting cards needed to operate voting machines weren't provided on time resulting in polling places opening late in Montgomery County. This is such a basic mistake, that it's almost mind boggling that it could happen -- effectively the equivalent of forgetting to provide ballots to polling places on election day. There have also been reports of polls opening late due to election workers not showing up on time in Baltimore County and Prince George's County. The Washington Post has this report and the Baltimore Sun this one.

Some polling places reportedly opened up three hours late, and workers ran out of the back-up paper ballots that are ordinarly used for provisional voting. These problems led to lawsuits being filed and court orders issued, requiring polls to stay open until 9:00 pm in Baltimore County and Montgomery County. As a matter of federal law, those voting during the extended hours are required to cast a provisional ballot. Section 302(c) of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 ("HAVA") provides:
Any individual who votes in an election for Federal office as a result of a Federal or State court order or any other order extending the time established for closing the polls by a State law in effect 10 days before the date of that election may only vote in that election by casting a provisional ballot .... Any such ballot cast under the preceding sentence shall be separated and held apart from other provisional ballots cast by those not affected by the order.
Presumably, those ballots will be counted after the election. Unfortunately, it appears that at least some precincts actually ran out of provisional ballots -- not surprising, given that a number of them were probably used by morning voters who weren't able to use the machines.

Getting somewhat less attention, though also very serious, are problems with the new statewide voter registration database used in Maryland. As I mentioned yesterday, statewide registration lists -- newly required by HAVA -- are a big issue to watch in this year's elections. The Sun mentions that electronic polling books "froze up" in Howard County, occasionally causing delays. And David Lublin reports here on his experience in Montgomery County, where it sounds like the electronic polling book crashed and then showed him as having already voted when it was rebooted. It's possible that poll workers unfamiliarity with this new system contributed to the delays.

All in all, a pretty bad day for Maryland election officials, poll workers, and voters.

UPDATE: Avi Rubin has this post, reporting on some of the problems with the electronic pollbook at his precinct where he worked as a poll worker.

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