Large jurisdictions in Maryland are expected to finish tallying up in-person ballots from Election Day by Thursday, state election officials said Wednesday afternoon.
Results were delayed in Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Baltimore County and Baltimore City.
The reporting of Election Day results had been delayed by an issue with a manual data transfer involving thumb drives, said Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections.
As a result of that tech issue, only four of the 81 vote centers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties had reported full Election Day vote center results to the state elections board Tuesday night.
Updated tallies are expected Thursday in Prince George’s County, Baltimore County and Baltimore City.
Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties updated their election totals Wednesday afternoon, and returns were released late Tuesday for 19 other counties.
Preliminary results indicate more than 1.3 million mail-in ballots were cast.
The problems stem from a data transfer issue from the thumb drives used in each scanner to the central voting system database, according to election officials.
During the transfer process, the system asked election workers to manually confirm any precinct that did not have any results in the drive before moving on to the next precinct.
“What has happened is because we have more vote centers on Election Day, and it was one day of voting, the odds were that you wouldn’t have a voter from every single precinct in every single vote center,” Charlson said earlier Wednesday.
On Wednesday, even with the lack of Election Day results reported, local boards began following their standard procedure for the day after an election, reloading all of the thumb drives with vote totals onto a “certified network,” Charlson said. That process, once again, starts with early voting before moving on to Election Day vote totals.
“They are doing exactly what they would have done regardless of what happened last night,” Charlson said. “And starting to build the foundation of what becomes eventually the unofficial results.”
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Adding to the confusion on Election Day was an erroneous message posted on several results pages — including Montgomery County’s — that incorrectly said 100% of the Election Day vote had been tallied. The incorrect messages were taken down Wednesday.
Charlson apologized for the error. “That was incorrect and that has since been removed,” she said.
Regarding the thumb drive issue, areas that generally have several precincts available during a regular general election all feeding into larger voting centers this time around were most impacted by the slow manual uploading.
Only six of 440 thumb drives in Prince George’s County were transferred, as of Wednesday morning. The board of elections also confirmed receiving data from 42 of 192 thumb drives in Montgomery County.
Three other jurisdictions also experienced issues uploading their ballots to the database, Charlson said. None of Baltimore County’s 128 were uploaded, whereas state election officials have received only 15 of the 160 used in Anne Arundel. Lastly, 12 of Baltimore City’s 80 thumb drives have been counted.
Local election officials stayed as late as 1 a.m. after polls closed, trying to upload as much voting information as possible.
During the early voting period — in which voters also cast ballots in vote centers — state election officials did not see any problems with transfer uploads, Charlson said. As a comparison, data transfers took between two to three minutes, she said.
In total, only 148 of the 318 vote centers reported their results to the state elections board by Wednesday morning. The remaining 19 counties reported 100% transferred ballots into the database.
To ensure safe voting procedures, there is no on-site uploading. Instead, once the polls are closed, all the thumb drives are taken to the county’s board of elections to start the transfer process.
“It is low-tech because that is the most secure way to transfer those election results,” Charlson said. “They are transferring the thumb drive, and they also are transferring the paper ballots at the same time, so we do not use a network to transfer results like that.”
Charlson said the goal is to fix the transfer issue and upload the remaining results within the next couple of days.
Gov. Larry Hogan approved the use of vote centers in August after not getting enough volunteer election judges to run in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Following the 2020 election, it will be up to the Maryland General Assembly to decide if they would like to continue using vote centers in the future, Charlson said.
As of Wednesday morning, Maryland’s unofficial vote count is 474,799, with Charlson saying early in-person voting results have been tabulated, as well as full results of mail-in voting that have already been counted for all 24 counties.
The state plans to continue counting any remaining mail-in ballots received Wednesday and Thursday.
Outside of one voting center opening late in Prince George’s County and the data transfer issues at the end of the night, the rest of Election Day in Maryland was considered a “smooth day,” Charlson said.