Voter registration error triggers confusion in Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- A major voter-registration slip-up caused confusion in an important primary Tuesday as officials prepared for as many as 80,000 voters to cast provisional ballots that won't be counted until next week, but state elections officials said they believe they were able to alert affected voters in time by email so they could cast ballots.

State officials were still assessing the fallout from a computer error at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

RELATED: Check 2018 Maryland Primary Election results

The problem relates to changes voters made in address and party affiliation on the administration's website or self-service kiosks, information that wasn't sent to the state elections board.

Linda Lamone, the state elections administrator, said voting appeared to go smoothly as of 7:20 p.m.

"If there are things, they're little things," Lamone said. "Because we were able to reach out to these voters by email, I'm hoping that will allay a lot of the potential confusion."

The error comes in a big election year for Maryland. Voters were choosing candidates for all 188 state legislative seats in Tuesday's primary, as well as the Democratic nominee for governor in a crowded primary. Polls have shown it to be a close contest between former NAACP President Ben Jealous and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is unchallenged in the GOP primary.

Jane Green, a 64-year-old retired federal worker in Annapolis who voted Tuesday said she had not heard of the voter registration error.

"As long as it's not the Russians, I just put that down with, you know, things happening," she said.

Voter turnout was very light at Annapolis Middle School in Maryland's capital city. The school, which serves two precincts, hasn't had a line all day, said Bob Ray, the chief election judge at the site. "I've been doing this for 14 years, it's never been this light," Ray said.

He said there had been no impact from the voter registration error at the poll. "I'm surprised," he said. "I thought for sure we'd have some."

At Baltimore's main public library, located by the city's downtown, just 309 people had cast ballots by 5 p.m. Thirty-seven Democrats had to cast provisional ballots, compared with four Republicans.

State officials have pledged to investigate what happened.

Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the state transportation department, said the agency has identified the programing mistake as "an internal error."

"MDOT MVA is working on fixing the programming error and hopes to have it fixed by the end of the week," Henson said.

The problem was discovered Friday when a state board of elections employee who changed her address realized she never received a voter notification card, Lamone said.

"And that's why I picked up the phone and called the Motor Vehicle Administration and said, 'What's going on here? Why didn't she get this notification card, and then we checked our database and it hadn't been changed," Lamone said Tuesday.

State officials first said Saturday night that about 18,760 people were affected and subsequently raised the number to 80,000.

On Sunday, state Sen. Joan Carter Conway said the Senate committee she chairs would hold a hearing. After Monday's announcement, Conway and Del. Anne Kaiser, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, called for MVA Administrator Christine Nizer's resignation.

Affected voters are encouraged to verify their registration information using the state elections board's voter look-up website. If the website doesn't show the voter's current address, a voter can use the board's polling place locator to find the right voting location for the voter's new address. Then, the voter can use the provisional voting process to cast a ballot on Tuesday.

Provisional ballots won't be counted until July 5.

Lamone, the state elections administrator, said the timing was set long ago in regulations.

"You need the time. You have to research every one of the provisionals," she said.


Associated Press Writer Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, and David McFadden in Baltimore contributed to this report.