Advocates: Some Baltimore City Voters Received Wrong Ballots

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, candidates and voters were mingling at Northwood Elementary School in Baltimore during the June 2 primary. Photo by Hannah Gaskill

Advocates say some Baltimore City voters received the wrong ballots for Tuesday’s primary election, and were urging them to vote on a provisional ballot before their mail-in ballot was processed.

Some voters from Baltimore City Council’s District 12 reportedly received ballots from District 14, and were urged in a Tuesday morning email to vote in-person before their incorrect ballots were processed, Joanne Antoine, the executive director of the elections watchdog group Common Cause Maryland, said on a conference call Tuesday.

While citywide elections would have been the same on the ballots, voters wouldn’t have been able to select their local councilperson. It wasn’t immediately clear how many District 12 voters were impacted by the apparent mix-up.

“They’re being forced to find their way to a voting center, assuming their local board is even able to get in touch with them on election day,” Antoine said.

Antoine said voters were told they could vote in-person via provisional ballots, but that their vote would only be accepted if their mail-in ballot hasn’t been processed yet. A Baltimore elections official didn’t immediately return request for comment.

The Democratic primary in the 14th District is an open-seat race pitting two community activists, Odette Ramos and Joe Kane, against each other. In the 12th District, Councilman Robert Stokes (D) is trying to fend off challengers.

Other voters waiting in long lines outside of precincts reportedly told Common Cause advocates that they’d never received their mail-in ballots.

The apparent election glitches came as Maryland attempted to conduct its primary election largely via mail in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The election was originally scheduled to take place in April, but was pushed back as quarantine orders were issued across the country.

Social unrest and protests have also put elections officials on edge. Officials locked a downtown ballot box early on Monday in anticipation of protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, but Antoine said the thousands of protesters marched peacefully.

Antoine noted that, other than the issues apparently coming from Baltimore, elections seemed to be going smoothly across the state. Lines were also starting to form outside of some voting centers in Prince George’s County by early afternoon, she said.

The Maryland State Board of Elections was looking into another election glitch Tuesday afternoon, wherein vote-by-mail ballots were wrongly categorized as “voted and returned” in electronic poll books despite being classified as “undeliverable” by the U.S. Postal Service.

 “In those cases, the voter will be allowed to vote by provisional ballot and the ballot will count,” a statement from the State Board of Elections read. “The Board is working to ascertain how many undeliverable ballots were characterized in this manner.”

More than 10,000 in-person votes had been cast as of 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to the statement. All of those in-person voting centers opened on time.

Elections officials and advocates emphasized that this election night won’t be like any other. It might take days before election results can be finalized, since mail-in ballots will continue to trickle in after Tuesday. Mail-in ballots had to be postmarked by Tuesday to be counted.

[email protected]