State Board Explains Delayed Election Results: Slow Uploads From Thumb Drives

The Maryland State Board of Elections website.

Election Day voting results for some of Maryland’s largest counties won’t be available until Thursday due to technical issues with ballot scanners, officials said Wednesday.

Ballots cast on Election Day in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were delayed. The issue arose from the thumb drives local election officials use to transfer voting results from ballot scanning machines into the state’s database, Deputy Election Administrator Nikki Charlson said during a Wednesday press briefing.

While results from Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties might be available on Wednesday night, results from Baltimore City, Baltimore and Prince George’s counties likely won’t be available until Thursday, Charlson said.

Election officials had to transfer the information on those thumb drives into the state’s secure database, but that process quickly hit a snag on Tuesday night. If there are no votes from a particular precinct on any given thumb drive, poll workers have to manually confirm that in the database.

And since voters could head to any Election Day voting center in their county, the software looked for votes from every precinct in the county when it was uploaded. Election workers were prompted to confirm there were no votes from multiple precincts as they scanned each thumb drive, slowing down the process.

“The odds were that you wouldn’t have a voter from every single precinct at every single vote center,” Charlson said.

Many of the state’s larger jurisdictions had dozens of vote centers on Election Day, and many voters opted to go to a center nearest to their home precinct. A voting center may only have votes from neighboring precincts, with a few from precincts further away in the county.

Because of that cumbersome upload process, election officials decided to postpone releasing results at around 1 a.m. Wednesday morning. At that time, very few thumb drives had been uploaded into the database.

In Anne Arundel County, 15 of 160 thumb drives of data had been uploaded as of 10 a.m. Wednesday. In Baltimore City, that figure was 12 of 80; in Prince George’s, just 6 of 440 had been uploaded; and in Montgomery county, 42 of 292 had been uploaded.

Charlson said the system isn’t new, since the state’s early voting centers have used the same thumb drive software in the past. Election officials had never run into such delays with the system before, Charlson said.

She said the state uses thumb drives with specialized software to enhance security.

“It is low-tech because that is the most secure way to transfer those election results,” she said.

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Bennett Leckrone
Leckrone is a December 2019 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He has interned at The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Columbus Dispatch, PennLive.com, The Dayton Daily News and The Troy Daily News. Leckrone is a Report for America corps member.