Election Officials Blame Old Technology For Long Results Wait
Montgomery County election results were the last in the state to be posted after November’s election, about two hours after Larry Hogan proclaimed victory in the gubernatorial race.
Though the delay may have been bothersome primarily to candidates, members of the media and hardcore political junkies, County Council members on Thursday had some stern questions for Board of Elections officials about their vote-recording process.
The Board of Elections blamed old technology — analog modems — for the long wait. Of the county’s 227 polling places on Nov. 4, 192 had an analog telephone line and modem card with which to transmit results back to the Board of Education’s headquarters in Gaithersburg.
On election night, only 74 polling places did. The Board of Elections cited connection problems (the Board has only 32 telephone lines to accept results) as reason for why many precinct captains opted to drive the results up to Gaithersburg instead.
That drive added time to the vote recording process. There was also a line of cars trying to get into the Board of Elections parking lot that spilled out onto Route 355.
“We hear the concerns about how long it takes to get results on election night and believe me, I’m there until the bitter end. Quite frankly, I share those concerns,” said Board of Elections President Mary Ann Keeffe. “Judges tell us they give up by sending their results in by analog modem and they simply drive them in. All that will change with the new voting equipment.”
Board officials said new state-mandated voting equipment that will be brought in and tested before the 2016 Presidential Primaries should take care of the problem.
Instead of having to follow an arduous step-by-step process to shut down each electronic voting machine in a precinct, election judges will now be able to scan and store the paper ballots which are set to return.
“We will be able to use wireless technology to get results back to the Board of Elections faster than we do now,” Keeffe said.
Councilmember Nancy Navarro said she was happy to hear the new system should speed up the process. But she did ask if there were any reasons specific to Montgomery County that caused the county to report its results to the state at about 2:25 a.m. on Nov. 5.
Enough statewide results were in that gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown conceded the race to Larry Hogan a little after midnight. Hogan made a victory speech at about 12:15 a.m. He won the hotly contested election by fewer than four percentage points.
“When you’re sort of an outlier in a statewide election, you have to ask yourself what are the pieces that can be improved,” Navarro said.
Election Director Margaret Jurgensen defended the county’s vote-collecting process and its precinct judges, many who she said just wanted to get home after a long day monitoring the polls.
Over the next few weeks and months, the county will begin receiving and testing the new paper ballot equipment. Jurgensen said the Board of Elections expects to go through an extensive testing process to make sure equipment can get wireless signals, especially in older school buildings.
The State Board of Elections is expected to hold a statewide mock election in September or October to ensure the new system is ready to go for next spring’s primaries.
“At some of the older schools, which have lots of concrete and steel, we’re going to have to do some special things to make sure things are working,” Jurgensen said. “Most of the time, that means moving the unit closer to a window or glass door.”