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Voting Problems, Fraud, Scandals Plague Polling Places Across America: Maryland
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Photo: USA Really

Voting Problems, Fraud, Scandals Plague Polling Places Across America: Maryland

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MARYLAND – December 10, 2018

Maryland is famous for its ghost polling stations, of which there are 54--51 scattered across ten counties, plus 3 in Baltimore.

These places are called ghosts because there are no voters, or they are in such small numbers that it is much easier for the authorities to register a voter at a different address.

Most of Maryland's ghost precincts were created as a result of the last redistricting when political boundaries for legislative, congressional and councilmanic districts were redrawn based on population data from the 2010 U.S. Census. After redistricting, voting precinct boundaries were also re-assessed and, if necessary, redrawn.

Prince George's County, whose nine school board districts are sometimes distinct from its nine councilmanic districts, has 27 ghost precincts, more than five times any other jurisdiction. Election officials must consider all of these lines when they draw precinct boundaries, said Donna Duncan, assistant deputy for election policy at the state Board of Elections.

For example, an area that had previously been represented by one district could have been moved to another. In that case, it would have a different ballot than many of its neighbors, meaning it would need to be its own precinct. Even if it had no residential addresses, election officials would have had to assign a precinct number, creating a “ghost.”

Like ghost precinct 02-006 in Harford County -- a tiny field in Aberdeen where nobody lives. Local election officials might know 02-006 better by its nickname, “the dog,” because of the animal it resembles when combined with precinct number 02-007 directly to the north, said Dale Livingston, deputy director of Harford County’s board of elections. Precinct 02-007 is the dog’s head and 02-006 the feet, she said.

Why is the dog’s head severed from its body? Because precinct 02-007 is in councilmanic district D, while the ghost precinct 02-006 is in councilmanic district E.

"We have to create [the ghost] in case someone moves into that piece of property," said Livingston.

Although in some areas things are different. For example, in Prince George, the precinct is formerly known as “ghost 21-093,” this year there were tenants. Then the polling station was merged with another larger one in the neighborhood.

But in Anna Arundel's precinct 04-099 voters were unable to come to the poll station because it's still officially listed as a ghost. And according to local residents, the authorities know that people live there, but they did nothing to open a new working precinct.

From an election security standpoint, Maryland’s ghost precincts are mostly harmless -- it is impossible to cast a vote from a ghost precinct because ghost precincts do not have polling places for the most part. In many official reports, it’s as if they don’t exist.

By the way, the authorities also came up with another way to hide the ghosts’ names, calling the sites “special” precincts. Of course, this did not solve the problem of having to distinguish between real and “ghost” or “special” precincts.

"It always causes confusion," said Dan Oltman, polling place manager at Anne Arundel’s board of elections. "Within our own database, we’ll hide them so that they don't come up on reports," he added. Anne Arundel has two ghost precincts, neither of which show up in the spreadsheets provided by the state.

The state doesn’t comprehensively track ghost precincts because those areas do not report election results, said Natasha Walker, project manager of election management systems at the state board of elections.

In other parts of the country, ghost precincts have shown up on reports, only to wreak mischief on election night. In the 2016 presidential primary, news outlets were reluctant to report statewide results for Kentucky, because preliminary records from Kenton County said all precinct results for the county were in, but only reported numbers for 105 out of 107 precincts. Two of the county's precincts, it turns out, were ghosts. They had been included in the totals, but were not listed separately.

Ghost polling stations also led to problems on on Election Day itself.

According to the results of the vote, it turned out that there are more than 1,000 extra votes in the state. Later, during the inspection by the Election Commission, it turned out that about 5,000 voters could potentially vote twice.

The representative of the Maryland State Council elections confirmed two things:

This issue is due to human error in the early voting period, and it has nothing to do with the ballots casted then. Those early votes were counted.

WUSA9 first learned about the issue from an email shared with the station. In it, the Montgomery County Election Director says "The instructions provided by the State Board are highly unrealistic with the number of voters in line at 7 a.m."

When journalists asked the state about this, the Maryland State Board of Elections Deputy Administrator was not pleased. Deputy Administrator Nikki Charlson stated that an inspection will be carried out.

She also confirmed that the state knows who these 5,500 people are and said it’s a matter of poll workers checking certain Early Voter lists provided for Tuesday, when they check-in Election Day voters.

As it says, the chain one pulls the other. While the election workers could not count the votes, some people had to re-vote to re-collect the data. By midnight on November, 6, it was still difficult to give the results of the elections.

Board administrator Linda Lamone said the board had asked counties to hold back from posting results online until all results statewide were in, as well, though some did not.

"It's my understanding that some have gone ahead and posted it anyway, but we have asked them not to," Lamone said.

Lamone said that was not a departure from the past. In addition, she added that she had reports that some polling stations in Prince George's County were short on paper ballots for a time, but said "as far as we know, the ballots have been delivered to all of the polling places."

Bulletins also ran out in Prince George's County. Head elections official Alisha Alexander had to apologize to voters and Federal authorities. She promised there will never be a repeat of what happened on Election night when about a dozen precincts either ran out or almost ran out of ballots.

As a result, some voters had to wait in lines that weren’t moving at all until the ballots arrived. Several hundred reportedly were in line in Brandywine when the ballots finally arrived.

"This will never happen again in Prince George's County," Alexander said the next day after election.

Alexander added that she knew turnout was likely to be much higher than a similar non-presidential election four years ago, but would still fall short of a presidential election. So she said she sent precincts about 70% of the number of ballots they’d received in 2016.

The worst situation happened in the southern part of the county at Brandywine Elementary School, where some voters told ABC7 News it took more than three and a half hours to vote.

Also according to Lamone, some voters had to wait in line for several hours to vote. As it turned out later, people simply didn't appear in the list of voters. To add a person to the list, you need to go through several internal commissions. This had to be done quickly on the spot.

At another polling station on the contrary there was a big crush to quickly enter the building. As it turned out, the local authorities didn't turn on the lights to illuminate the streets near the precinct on West Saratoga Street. People were saying it was really scary.

FOX45's Kathleen Cairns saw near-total darkness, with street lights being out and no lights indicating that there's a polling location there.

Author: USA Really