2020 | Politics

County has processed more than 365K vote-by-mail applications

Board of Elections ‘rapidly burning’ through personnel budget

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Pictured is a mail-in ballot drop off box used during the primary election.

File photo

As the Nov. 3 general election nears, election officials are working through vote-by-mail applications and ballots — processing more than 365,100 vote-by mail applications and a backlog of 5,300 more that must be completed by Tuesday.

More than 1,000 ballots had to be issued a second time because of some type of delivery failure, Margaret Jurgensen, the county’s election director, said at a Board of Elections meeting on Monday.

About 11% of the applications have been requested through web delivery, which can slow down the board’s process because the county must copy the electronic votes onto paper ballots by hand.

Ballots are being collected from drop boxes twice a day. About 50,000 have been collected so far.

The board has received 96,700 ballots through the mail and more than 2,400 ballots through web delivery.

Around 40 staff members, including temporary seasonal workers, are processing applications.

Kera Bumbray, the management and budget specialist for the county’s election office, told board members on Monday that the county is “rapidly burning through” its personnel budget.

“The most heavily strained line item is overtime,” she said. “We are already 33% over budget in that line. I think it’s the most extreme thing you’ll see here.”

The fiscal year 2021 budget had $240,160 set aside for overtime, but as of Monday, the county has spent $321,771.

“We probably have about 150 seasonal temporary employees this time, including those on loan from the recreation department,” Alysoun McLaughlin, deputy election director of the Board of Elections, said Monday.

The seasonal temporary employees are working on tasks such as processing ballots and assisting with absentee voter services.

The county is “close” to what it needs for election judges, Jurgensen said. Some voting operations judges are still needed to help maintain physical distancing in lines of voters inside and outside election centers.

Surveillance cameras also added an unexpected cost to the budget — an estimate of about $40,000. Cameras are being used for 24/7 surveillance of drop boxes, as well as a live video stream of canvassing. The drop boxes are monitored with security cameras, as well as police who occasionally drive by the drop box locations.

The deadline to register to vote was Oct. 13, but some residents are eligible for same-day registration during early voting and Election Day. Those residents were sent a letter from the state, notifying them of their eligibility to register, Jurgensen said.

The Board of Elections must receive mail-in ballot applications by Oct. 20. Early voting is between Oct. 26 and Nov. 2. There are 11 early-voting sites in the county.

Election Day is Nov. 3. There are 39 sites in the county for in-person voting.

There are 41 drop boxes that voters can use to deliver their mail-in ballots. An additional nine drop boxes will be available starting Saturday.

More information on the election can be found at the county Board of Elections website or by calling 240-777-8500.

Bethesda Beat has published a 2020 General Election Voters Guide that includes bios of candidates for Montgomery County Board of Education, Circuit Court judge and U.S. Congress seats that represent the county, plus their answers to questionnaires.

Staff members addressed a few problems that voters have run into during the voting process so far, including a “quality assurance” error identified by the state’s ballot vendor “late in the process,” Jurgensen said.

“They discovered there were some problems with the elements of the production,” she said. “These ballots were held back and were mailed out around Oct. 6 and 7.”

This caused some voters to receive ballots later than others, but all of the correct ballots should have been delivered by Oct. 12. McLaughlin said 8,000 to 9,000 Montgomery County voters were affected by the error.

David Naimon, secretary of the board, questioned why the election office did not post information on the ballot delays on its website or social media accounts.

“Even if it’s 8,000 or 9,000 voters, that’s a lot of voters,” he said.

Jurdensen said she reached out to the State Board of Elections and was told that the issue was remedied, but the state did not seem to have further plans to address it.

“I did not take the time to discuss this with the staff,” she said, “since we had the list [of affected voters]. And as the calls came in, we were working through all of the questions that were being asked.”

Confidential voters, which include people involved in judiciary or law enforcement jobs and those who have been victims of domestic violence or stalking, have also had problems with ballots. Confidential voters do not have their address listed on any lists of registered voters.

Kevin Karpinski, the board’s attorney, said Monday that the state controls when the ballots are issued to confidential voters.

He said there was a delay in mailing the ballots to confidential voters, but did not say why.

“The state board said that [it was] targeting issuing ballots to confidential voters on Oct. 9. However, I’ve spoken with several individuals who are confidential voters who have not received their ballots,” Karpinski said.

If confidential voters request a ballot from the county, the local board will send one, he said.

With two weeks left until the general election, board members again voiced concerns about safety at the polls.

If board members or election judges cannot resolve a problem at the polls with someone being harassing or voter intimidation, police will be called, Jurgensen said. Police will be patrolling the areas around voting centers.

She reminded the board that no guns are allowed on school property and at voting centers.

James Shalleck, president of the board, said Monday that the county won’t allow any wrongdoing or intimidation at the polls.

“This board has zero tolerance for any disruptions or mayhem or weapons. If something like that happens, we’ll be on it like a glove,” he said. “The eyes and ears of the police will be there. … [The police] know the importance of maintaining order and we will, period.”

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.