Montgomery Co. ballot mix-up a ‘critical error,’ voter says

Editor’s note, 11/05/2016, 2:45 a.m.:  This article has been corrected from an earlier version. Montgomery County includes three different congressional districts, so there are three different ballots.

WASHINGTON — A voter at one of Montgomery County’s early voting centers says he was handed the wrong ballot during early voting this weekend.

He caught the mistake and said the election judge even told him “Nice catch!” But writer and researcher Adam Pagnucco couldn’t help but wonder how many other voters who didn’t catch the error had actually voted using the wrong ballot.

Pagnucco wrote about his experience on the blog “The Seventh State.”

He wrote that he was voting Saturday at an early voting site in Wheaton when he noticed that the ballot he was given listed John Sarbanes as the congressional candidate.

The problem: Pagnucco lives in candidate Jamie Raskin’s district. Pagnucco said it was clearly an honest mistake, but he called it “a critical error” when a voter is handed the wrong ballot.

Linda Lamone, the administrator for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said the type of error Pagnucco documented has happened “sporadically” and in each case that was brought to an election official’s attention, the correct ballot was then supplied to the voter.

Marjorie Roher, the public information officer for the Montgomery County Board of Elections said Pagnucco’s description of the problem — that a voter can be handed a ballot that doesn’t reflect the voting district in which they live — is correct.

Both Lamone and Roher said steps have been taken since the problem was reported to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The problem is that ballots for different districts are available at early voting centers, Lamone said. For example, Montgomery County includes three different congressional districts, so there are three different ballots.

“Our poll workers are absolutely wonderful people, but they’re human and they can make mistakes,” Lamone said.

Lamone said election judges at the polling places have been asked to take extra care that voters are given the correct ballot.

“We haven’t had any more reported incidences since they alerted their poll workers, and they rearranged the polling places to help keep the ballots segregated from one another,” Lamone said.

Roher said a system that might have prevented the type of error Pagnucco described had been considered.

A BMD, or ballot marking device, had been evaluated, but election officials encountered a problem in which not all the candidates names would appear.

Roher said the State Board of Elections asked the maker of the BMD to modify the device so all the names in any given contest would be visible on the same screen. Roher says it’s hoped that the change could be made in time for the 2018 election.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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