Primaries: voter turnout and process complaints
BY SOPHIE GORMAN ORIANI AND KIT SLACK
Results are in for July’s primary election.
Nearly 214,000 voters, about a third of those registered in the county, turned out for the Prince George’s County Council at-large race, which incumbents Calvin Hawkins and Mel Franklin easily won. The race drew the most votes, up from 210,000 in 2018.
For comparison, about 145,000 voters cast ballots in the race for the governor’s seat, up from 130,000 in 2018.
Voter turnout this year in most local Democratic state races was largely comparable to or somewhat lower than turnout in 2018. Turnout increased slightly over 2018 in many county council races.
While the Republican party fielded fewer local candidates than in 2018, Republican turnout increased, from under 5,000 voters in 2018 to nearly 7,000 in 2022.
Some area residents have concerns about the voting process itself, including a number of Hyattsville residents who reported that the machines they used seemed to allow them to choose between casting a Republican or Democratic ballot.
There was an even more basic problem: Staffing issues stalled the opening of the Ritchie Coliseum polling site from 7am until 9:30am on Election Day, inconveniencing voters who had arrived on time. College Park City Councilmembers discussed this issue during a meeting on Aug. 3.
Maryland primaries are, by law, closed primaries; a voter must be registered with either the Republican or Democratic party to vote, and may only vote using a ballot corresponding to their party.
In July’s primary, for the first time, residents were allowed to register on Election Day, following an amendment to the state constitution that voters approved in 2018. Also on Election Day, previously registered voters could choose to affiliate with a party or change their affiliation to the other party through the same-day voter registration process, and could then vote using provisional ballots.
However, some Hyattsville residents who did not choose to update or change their voter registration found that the voting machines at Hyattsville Elementary School and Nicholas Orem Middle School allowed them to select their choice of ballot, instead of displaying the ballot of their designated party.
In Maryland, the machines voters use to mark their ballots record but do not actually cast the votes. These machines, called ExpressVote Ballot Marking Devices, simply track a voter’s choices and print them on a marked ballot. The machine-marked ballots are then read by separate machines that also read hand-marked ballots.
Jennifer Kubit, who lives in Hyattsville, said that the machines she and her spouse used at Nicholas Orem offered them a choice between Republican and Democratic ballots. While Kubit selected the ballot for the party with which she was registered, her spouse accidentally selected the wrong ballot. He was able to void the erroneous ballot and submit a correct one.
The county election board has not responded to a request for comment.
Late opening and staffing issues
Ritchie Coliseum, which is located on the University of Maryland campus, is a voting location for some College Park residents.
At their Aug. 3 meeting and worksession, the College Park City Council discussed the lack of notice or communication about alternative polling places when Ritchie Coliseum opened one and a half hours late. And according to council meeting materials, a College Park resident who served as a volunteer poll worker during the 2020 election was assigned to serve as a poll judge in this year’s primary, though that person hadn’t volunteered to do so. The individual also did not receive contact information that would have allowed them to decline the assignment.
The College Park City Council voted unanimously to send a letter underscoring the staffing issues to the Prince George’s County Board of Elections. College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn said he hoped Alisha Alexander, the elections administrator for the county, would meet with the city council in advance of the November general election.
“[The late opening] is distressing regardless of whether or not it ultimately had an impact on the results of the election,” Wojahn said.