‘It won’t ever happen again’: What officials learned from Prince George’s Co. ballot shortage

WASHINGTON — Elections officials in Prince George’s County, Maryland, are admitting that more than a dozen polling sites in the county saw long delays Tuesday for voters because they were stocked with too few ballots.

Alisha Alexander, elections administrator for Prince George’s County, said the math used to determine how many ballots the county’s 274 voting sites should be stocked with was based on voter turnout at precincts during previous elections, with the high turnout seen in the presidential election, used as a foundation for calculating those numbers.

“We knew that the turnout was going to be fairly high,” Alexander said.

It became clear in the afternoon that those numbers wouldn’t pan out at close to 5 percent of the precincts when calls from those polling sites began to come into the Prince George’s County Board of Elections office, Alexander said. 

“We were getting calls from various precincts, basically saying that they were dangerously low on ballots,” she said.

At that point, Alexander said members of her staff were sent out with, on average, 200 additional ballots for the sites, but those deliveries were delayed by the rainy weather and heavy traffic.

This resulted in some voters waiting for hours to vote, with the last voter to cast a ballot at Brandywine Elementary School, departing more than two hours after the polls closed.

“In the future, this is clearly a lesson learned, and we are going to revisit how we allocate ballots,” Alexander said.

She added that after what took place this year, she intends to meet with the Board of Elections to determine solutions to prevent a similar situation in the future.

“It won’t ever happen again,” Alexander said.

One solution she said is possible is the sending out of 100 percent of the ballots initially, so there is one for every voter registered at precincts around the county.

“We in Prince George’s County take elections very seriously, and we want every voter eligible to cast a ballot,” she said.

Alexander said early numbers showed that from the start of early voting through Election Day, around 58 percent of the county’s registered voters cast ballots. That is only 10 percent shy of the total voter turnout seen in 2016, during a presidential election year, which customarily sees higher voter participation.

This year’s percentage is expected to rise a bit once provisional and absentee ballots are tallied, but Alexander doesn’t expect it to exceed the 68 percent voter turnout from 2016.

“I think it was an unfortunate situation for voters that I believe was attributable to the unprecedented numbers of voters who turned out to vote,” said Deborah Mitchell, co-president of League of Women Voters in Prince George’s County.

Mitchell, who also served as a poll observer, said poll workers at the sites she monitored reacted the best they could under the circumstances, and she looks forward to sharing her observations with elections officials.

Mitchell said she has faith that the Board of Elections will take steps to prevent a repeat of what took place Tuesday. She also said she supports Alexander’s idea for future elections.

“I think having 100 percent of the ballots on hand would be one way to handle it, but then I have to talk out the other side of my mouth saying it’s still a situation you cannot predict absolutely,” Mitchell said.

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