Hundreds of Ballots Delivered to Rockville Retirement Community Weeks after Others Were Mailed
Mayor questions process for new vote-by-mail system
Hundreds of Rockville mail-in election ballots were delivered to the Ingleside at King Farm retirement community late Monday night after residents complained they still had not received them, two weeks before the Nov. 5 election.
According to Rockville City Clerk Sara Taylor-Ferrell, election officials deliver ballots to tenants in retirement communities and “nursing homes” without exact street addresses or mailboxes. The staff at those group residences arranges a time for ballots to be delivered, she said.
“We’ve been sending out notices to the coordinator — no response,” Taylor-Ferrell said of the Ingleside staff. “So we went physically there to do that because there was no response from the coordinator.”
Ingleside Executive Director Michelle Kraus confirmed the receipt and distribution of the ballots, but did not address Taylor-Ferrell’s characterization that Ingleside’s inaction caused the delay.
An Ingleside resident at 701 King Farm Blvd., where 335 ballots were delivered Monday, said the majority of residences, including his, have mailboxes on the building’s first floor.
Jacques Gelin, 87, a former Justice Department attorney, said he found his ballot a little after 5 a.m. Tuesday, when he went to retrieve his newspaper.
“I got it on the shelf immediately outside the front door,” Gelin said. “I did call the front desk and she said they came early.”
The exception are the residents on the 7th floor, Gelin said, who don’t have mailboxes.
Taylor-Ferrell confirmed that more than 38,000 ballots have been mailed out for the general election. She said the mailings began “on or before” Oct. 7, and ballots were received before Oct. 11.
Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton contacted the city’s election staff Sunday after numerous people pulled her aside at church to express concern because they hadn’t yet received ballots.
“It’s two weeks before the election, and I received my ballot Oct. 7,” Newton said.
Election officials appeared to be aware of a problem, according to Newton, but when the mayor asked in a follow-up email whether the ballots had been mailed, she did not receive a response.
Newton, who is running for re-election, called the situation a “huge irregularity.”
“It calls into question the process,” Newton said of the delay and ballot distribution method.
Rockville City Councilwoman Virginia Onley who is challenging Newton for mayor, did not want to speculate about what happened.
“It’s important that we get to the bottom of why residents at Ingleside did not get their ballots,” Onley wrote in an email late Monday night. “We need to work with the Election Board and city staff, so that all residents get their ballots and their voices are heard in this election and future elections. … I want to praise the residents of Ingleside for being vocal.”
According to the Rockville city code on election procedures, mail-in ballots for the general election must be mailed or distributed between 30 and 25 days before the election.
This year, that means ballots for the Nov. 5 general election should have been distributed by or on Oct. 11.
However, Taylor-Ferrell said there is an exception for certain “nursing home” tenants.
“Once the ballots went from the mailing house, we were sent additional [ballots] for all the nursing homes and they were distributed within the last week,” Taylor-Ferrell said Monday.
She said visits are scheduled with the staff at a facility, so members of the board of supervisors of elections can distribute ballots to residents without a specific mailing address or mailbox.
“They make sure they are distributed to that registered voter on the list,” Taylor-Ferrell said.
It is unclear whether the city staff, the Ingleside staff or a combination of both delivered ballots to voters. Someone distributed hundreds of ballots to the front doors of tenant residences — some who have mailboxes — Monday night and possibly through the morning Tuesday.
There is no information about the procedure on the Rockville elections website, but Taylor-Ferrell said the delivery practice was approved in 2011.
“This procedure is not mandatory and there is no deadline for distribution of ballots — only to make sure that the ballots are delivered in a timely manner,” Taylor-Ferrell wrote in an email Tuesday. “The Board of Supervisors of Elections adopted the procedures from the State of Maryland Licensed Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities: Absentee Ballot and Voter Registration Procedures. The city of Rockville incorporated this practice during the 2011 municipal election. The board found that this practice was well received in the community and voter participation.”
Taylor-Ferrell said Rockville’s remaining nursing home and retirement communities have received their ballots.
Those facilities include Brightview Falls Grove, Brightview West End on North Washington Street, Brightview Potomac Woods, Collingswood, Potomac Valley, the Village at Rockville and Sunrise of Rockville.