State Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) says the networking equipment is costly, unnecessary and vulnerable to hackers. She is sponsoring emergency legislation to ease deadlines under which local officials must tally votes, a move intended to remove the justification given by state election officials for using the new network.
“If these wireless devices malfunctioned when only 60,000 voters came out for a special election, how can you rely on them when we’re expecting roughly one and a half million voters on primary Election Day?” Kagan said this week.
Nikki Charlson, the deputy administrator at the Maryland State Board of Elections, said that because of the slowdowns, no local election boards will be required to use the system this year as previously planned.
The winners of the Feb. 4 primary — Democrat Kweisi Mfume and Republican Kimberly Klacik — will compete in a special general election on April 28 to serve out the rest of the term of the late congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D), who died in October. April 28 is also the day of the statewide 2020 primary, with candidates for U.S. president, all eight congressional seats and two Senate seats — and assorted local offices — on the ballot.
But state officials will work with counties that choose to use the network.
In addition to tracking who has voted, the network transmits new registrations from local polling places to state officials throughout Election Day, allowing officials to update voter lists to ensure that no one can vote twice, among other objectives. State elections officials say the network is needed because of a new law allowing people to register to vote on Election Day.
Charlson said the network does not carry information about how any person voted. The same type of network is used by law enforcement and public safety agencies, she said, and the data is encrypted.
The state uses a similar, though smaller-scale, wireless network to upload new registrations during early-voting periods.
Charlson said a small number of voters experienced delays during the check-in process last Tuesday as poll books worked slower in the 7th District, which includes parts of Baltimore City and Howard and Baltimore counties.
Elections officials got word of the slowdowns about 5:30 p.m. Officials took poll books in Howard County off the network, and that appeared to improve performance, Charlson said. “Then we decided that since there were reports in other counties, we just took them all off.”
Officials have not yet established what caused the slowdowns, Charlson said: “We need to do some analysis and some testing before we come to a definitive answer.”
Montgomery County’s Board of Elections has fought implementation of the networking plan, which was previously mandatory for the state’s six largest voting jurisdictions. Officials there have raised cost and security concerns and say they will not participate this year.
Howard County’s elections director, Guy Mickley, says he expects the problem to be resolved and the system retested by April’s primary. “As long as the test looks like everything has been fixed, I will be all in on the network,” he said.
Mickley said he remains “very confident in the security of the network,” which he said provides advantages such as the ability to monitor voter turnout throughout Election Day and ensure no polling place runs short of ballots.
Officials in other large counties have yet to announce their plans. Alisha Alexander, the elections administrator for Prince George’s County, said “the information we can get from this tool is invaluable.” But she said she will recommend to her local elections board that it hold off on implementing the network this year.
“At this point, I’m not willing to take any chances in April for the presidential primary,” Alexander said.