They called for top elections officials to resign after botched delivery of absentee ballots and hours-long waits at polling places left some voters disenfranchised.
D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) announced June 19 hearings on what went wrong, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called it “completely unacceptable” that some voters didn’t get ballots and called for hearings in the General Assembly.
Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) and Comptroller Peter K. Franchot (D) said Linda H. Lamone, director of the State Board of Elections, should relinquish her post. D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) said D.C. Board of Elections Chair Michael Bennett should resign, as well.
“A full investigation is needed given voters were likely disenfranchised due to this screw-up. Unacceptable,” tweeted Silverman, who said she received about 500 emails Monday and Tuesday from voters who had requested absentee ballots but did not receive them.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) promised to prioritize an inquiry. “It’s important we have a full airing of what happened,” he said. “Voters shouldn’t have to wait an hour, and I understand in some places it was five hours.”
Lamone, who was appointed by the State Board of Elections and confirmed by the Maryland Senate, has held the job since 1997. She did not respond to an email seeking comment.
“I think it’s time for new leadership there, and to be done early, with enough time to correct all of these issues before the November election,” Rutherford said. “I call on the Senate to work with us to find new leadership, and I encourage the administrator to step down.”
Franchot said Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., director of the Baltimore City Board of Elections, should be removed, as well. “Our city, state and country are already facing far too many existential challenges without corroded public confidence in the integrity of our democratic process,” he said.
Jones did not return a call to his office.
Bennett, who said he does not plan to resign, said, “We’re going to be doing ‘lessons learned’ and figuring out how best to go forward.” He and others acknowledged that they will need new technology and new strategies to avoid the same problems in the fall.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) called the long lines Tuesday night “nothing more than failed execution.”
“I am very concerned about it,” Bowser said. “I can assure D.C. voters we will have the appropriate action plan from the board. . . . I could not tolerate continued failed leadership or execution.”
Maryland had said it would send mail-in ballots to every registered voter in the state ahead of the primary, a measure meant to prevent the spread of the virus by limiting the number of people who voted in person.
But at least 1 million ballots were delayed.
In the District, the Board of Elections urged all residents to vote by mail and opened just 20 polling places instead of the usual 143. The elections office struggled to fulfill more than 92,000 requests for mail-in ballots, instead of the 6,000 or so it receives in most elections.
Then, thousands of people turned out to vote in person Tuesday. Poll workers were cleaning equipment between voters and limiting the number allowed inside at once. As a result, long lines remained at many polling places well after voting was supposed to end at 8 p.m.
Some voters gave up. Many waited hours — in some cases past midnight.
District resident Patricia Wertman, 75, said she requested her ballot and got a confirmation of her request May 5. When she hadn’t received her ballot by May 30, she got in touch with the Board of Elections; she said that a staff member told her to vote in person.
“Not possible,” she wrote in an email. She lives in an assisted-
living facility, where she has been under a strict quarantine since March.
Wertman said that she has had a near-perfect voting record for more than half a century and that she spent most of her career working for the Congressional Research Service. “I consider it a moral & civic duty to vote. I was/am infuriated by this,” she wrote.
In the days leading up to the election, D.C. elections workers drove around the city, delivering some ballots by hand. On Tuesday, they emailed ballots that could be printed and mailed that day or submitted electronically to about 500 voters, Bennett said.
Bennett said the board would be calling all 500 or so voters who used that method to confirm that they themselves completed their ballots.
“Unfortunately, it ended up being used more times than is normal,” Bennett said about the emailing of ballots, an option the District normally offers only to overseas military personnel and certain people with disabilities.
He said he does not consider email to be an option for November’s general election.
Bennett said he could not answer key questions about what went wrong with the absentee ballots: how many were sent out but never received (including some that were mailed with incomplete addresses on the envelope), and how many were never sent at all because of technical failures. He vowed to research both problems in the weeks to come.
“I really don’t have a good, clear view in my own mind when the red flag really popped up,” he said.
Some skeptics of voting by mail have worried that ballots that were sent but never made it to their intended recipients might be intercepted, and that someone else might use them to fraudulently vote. Bennett said that the District guards against that: Every voter’s signature is on file, and the signature on each ballot is checked against that signature before the ballot gets counted. “We have some where they don’t reasonably match up, and we do contact the voter,” he said.
In Maryland, voters who wanted to drop off mail-in ballots by Tuesday’s 8 p.m. deadline also encountered problems, according to election watchdogs. Jammed parking lots prevented them from leaving their ballots before the boxes were locked for the night.
Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator of the State Board of Elections, said mailed-in and dropped-off ballots were being quarantined by local boards for at least 24 hours, in case they were contaminated with coronavirus. New vote totals will be announced each day as those ballots are counted.
“The lessons we take from this election we will certainly apply to the November election in whatever format that election is held,” she said. “We’ve never ran an election in a pandemic before, so we’re going to learn a lot.”
Baltimore City Council President Brandon M. Scott (D), a candidate for mayor, praised what he called a “historic election under unprecedented circumstances.”
However, he said, he remained frustrated by what he called “administrative challenges.”
“When people marched and died for this right, and when voting rights are under attack at the national level, it is everyone’s responsibility to take this matter with the greatest seriousness,” Scott said in a statement.
Emily Scarr, director of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, said the state should immediately begin preparing for the November election, including an aggressive outreach program to encourage voters to update their addresses, more time for voters to complete mail-in ballots and more in-person voting options.
She also called for public hearings on the printing and mailing errors that state elections officials have blamed in part on their Minnesota-based vendor, SeaChange.
“Maryland had the opportunity to protect both its people’s health and the constitutional right to vote — and we fell short,” she said in a statement. “Our leaders . . . weren’t prepared for the problems that arose.”
In the District, about a third of the voters interviewed by The Washington Post on Tuesday said they were waiting in line because they had requested absentee ballots that never came.
Janice Lewis feared catching the coronavirus, so she called the Board of Elections to be sure she would receive an absentee ballot in the mail. She didn’t.
“I’m 70 years old. I’m definitely worried about it. But I wanted to vote,” she said, standing in a line that snaked through the dark Malcolm X Opportunity Center parking lot at 9:15 p.m.
Tia Jackson got in line at 7 p.m., with her 10-month-old and 3-year-old in a Radio Flyer wagon at her side. By 9 p.m., it was past their bedtime, and she was still far from the front of the line, struggling to entertain them with a troll doll and the “Baby Shark” song.
“It’s frustrating,” she said. “I’ll wait it out. It’s always important to vote.”
Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.