Maryland Drops Election Day Data Sharing Plans for Counties

Maryland elections officials will no longer require the state’s largest jurisdictions to use a wireless network to transmit voter information to the state during its upcoming primary and general elections.

by Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun / February 10, 2020
(Shutterstock)

 (TNS) — Maryland elections officials will no longer require the state’s largest jurisdictions to use a wireless network to transmit voter information to the state during its upcoming primary and general elections, after the network caused a significant slowdown during voting in the special 7th Congressional District primary, they said Friday.

The network, which cost about $2 million in federal funds to set up, was used for the first time Tuesday in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County.

The Maryland Board of Elections said it could return the network to service in the future, but won’t require its use in the April 28 primary or in the general election on Nov. 3, when voter turnout is expected to be far larger than Tuesday.

“We’re just making a decision for the 2020 elections. 2022 is two years from now. We see the need and benefit of it, so I would say it’s not scrapped. It’s just been postponed,” said Nikki Charlson, the board’s deputy administrator. “We always hope that every voter has a good voting experience, and when they don’t, we take that seriously, and that’s what we’ve done.”

The network connects tablet-like pollbooks that poll workers use to check in voters, allowing the workers to transmit information to the elections board in real time.

“There are benefits, really good benefits, for the local boards of elections to get insight into what’s happening at their voting locations,” Charlson said — including the ability to track turnout in real time, anticipate shortages in paper ballots and remotely spot problems with the pollbooks.

If local jurisdictions choose to use the network in the coming elections, the state board will continue to assist them in doing so, Charlson said.

The decision not to force the state’s six largest jurisdictions to use the wireless network won praise from critics who had cited Tuesday’s slowdown as fresh evidence the system was poorly conceived and inadequately vetted.

Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat who had introduced emergency legislation in Annapolis that she said would make the network unnecessary, said in a statement Friday that she was “relieved” the Board of Elections staff members had “abandoned their flawed plan.”

“One of the most consequential presidential elections in history is not the time to experiment with wireless devices statewide," Kagan said. “Instead, Maryland should avoid installing new wireless technology so as to ensure security of our process and the resulting confidence in the election outcome."

Kagan, Montgomery County officials and other critics complained before Tuesday that the network served no purpose, unnecessarily exposed the state’s election system to possible cyberattacks, and unfairly burdened the jurisdictions. Baltimore City and the counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s all have large Democratic voter bases.

Officials at the State Board of Elections disputed those claims, arguing even after the problems Tuesday that the system was secure and would be ready for the larger number of voters this spring and fall.

©2020 The Baltimore Sun. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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