Candidates Sayles, Pope Claim Digital Ballots Present Potential Disadvantage in Council Races

The races for county council seats are underway and residents have spent the past week casting early votes prior to the upcoming July 19 primary. But as voting ensues, questions have been raised regarding the digital ballot system and how it is potentially putting certain candidates at a disadvantage. 

Voters have noticed that for the Democratic county council at-large and District 5 candidates, the split-up of the nominees on the electronic ballot could be problematic.

Currently, seven of the eight Democratic candidates are displayed on the first page, with a singular candidate displayed solely on the second page. This forces residents to use an additional step in order to reach the eighth candidates, assuming they are aware to do so. 

The issue impacts at-large candidate Laurie-Anne Sayles and District 5 candidate Jeremiah Pope.

For Sayles, her voters must endure additional work. Those who have already selected their four candidates before reaching her name on the second page must then go back to the first page and proceed to deselect a candidate if they wish to choose Sayles’ name. 

“I learned about the confusion with the electronic ballot marking device on the first day of early voting after a voter came out and explained that she had trouble finding my name on the ballot,” Sayles told myMCM.

Sayles explained that the process for reviewing the ballot was misleading, asserting that these instances “should have been addressed by the Board of Elections when the problem was first learned about.”

“There’s no reason why candidates should be allowed to review the printed ballot and we were not allowed to have access to an identical electronic ballot,” said Sayles. “That’s causing lots of misinformation and confusion and not just in the at-large race but in the district races as well.”

Pope – who is also the sole candidate out of eight that is listed on the second page – is also frustrated about the issue, calling it “disappointing” in a conversation with myMCM. 

“It’s very disappointing that [the Board of Elections] knew about this, but did not notify my campaign and they didn’t notify the public as well that this could be a problem,” Pope said.

Similarly to Sayles, Pope said that he “had to find out from supporters.”

Pope expressed that the issue is problematic in many ways, indicating that the two candidates impacted by the split-up happen to both be minorities.

“It is very disappointing because for some reason, it is done [and ends up being] two black candidates, and one who’s a woman – a black woman – and you got an African American male. It just doesn’t look right to the public,” Pope said. “Why is it the minorities that this is happening to?”

Pope believes that voting should be an “easy process,” noting that the digital ballots could have presented the candidates differently rather than singling-out a candidate on the second page.

“What they should have done is they should have split [the candidates] up, maybe half on one page, half on another page,” Pope said. “Hopefully they can correct the situation before July 19th, before the election.”

A Washington Post article on Monday noted that Alysoun McLaughlin, the director for the Montgomery County Board of Elections, is working to add signage in voting centers explaining that there is a ‘more’ button on the ballot. 

While this could possibly be perceived as a step in the right direction, Pope feels that even this would not be enough to address the issue.

“It will not be sufficient unless the signage is right next to the person while they’re voting, because if you put a sign in the corner, or when you first walk in, you’ll glance at it and you’ll keep moving,” said Pope. “Maybe the Board of Elections can do a public statement by radio, public television or something to notify people on what’s going on, versus waiting until they actually get into the polling place. I would like to see the Board of Elections be more proactive.”

The potential disadvantage regarding digital ballots is not the first complication that the Board of Elections has dealt with during this election season. 

Within the past month, hundreds of voters in the county received a duplicate absentee ballot. Voters were asked to disregard the second ballot and county officials insisted that only one would be counted. 

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