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Politicsby Mark Reutter and Louis Krauss2:43 pmJun 3, 20200

“I was asleep” when the vote results were pulled, Baltimore’s elections chief says

Armstead Jones defends his handling of the 2020 primary, as critics call for the state elections administrator to resign

Above: Baltimore elections chief Armstead Jones speaks to reporters today in front of the Benton building. (Louis Krauss)

Reporters and candidates’ representatives clamoring for answers about errors and delays in the reporting of Tuesday’s primary contests got this response from Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., director of the Baltimore City Board of Elections:

“I think the process is a great process.”

After first telling reporters they could not be in the Benton building that houses elections offices and other city agencies, Jones eventually came outside on Fayette Street today to answer questions.

Why, he was asked, were election results in Baltimore City – but not in any other jurisdiction in Maryland – wiped clean and set back to zero in the early morning hours?

“I was asleep. I have no idea why it happened,” he said.

“Evidently when things like that happen they’re doing some critiquing to the system,” Jones observed.

Regarding false numbers on the state elections site that showed newcomer Paris Bienert winning 48 times more votes than incumbent First District Councilman Zeke Cohen, Jones had this to say:

“It’s being handled by the state board. I think they released a document an hour ago expressing what happened. I have nothing more to say other than what they’ve already covered.”

Will election officials have to redo the district votes?

“I don’t know where we’re going to go from here, but it’s not a Baltimore City issue. It’s a state issue,” he replied.

“Any time you have a process, you’re going to find some issues. . . There were some lessons learned in this process”  – Armstead Jones.

How many ballots are still not counted in yesterday’s primary, he was asked.

“Maybe two days, three days of [mail-in] ballots that came in. One day was very light, and, of course, we have the ballots from the dropbox that really increased over the last two-three days. Not sure how many more there were.”

Lt. Governor: Lamone Should Resign

The latest problems with Baltimore’s elections led to calls for state elections officials to be fired, with Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford leading the chorus. (State Comptroller Peter Franchot later joined in.)

Speaking this morning on Larry Young’s talk show on WOLB 1010 AM, Rutherford erupted when told that vote canvassing scheduled for this morning in Baltimore had been delayed to Thursday.

Rutherford blasted Linda H. Lamone, state administrator of elections, who had recently come before him at the Board of Public Works, where he had been sitting in place of Gov. Larry Hogan.

“Rutherford said she had not been able to answer his questions, and she needs to give that position up,” Young told The Brew.

Rutherford was scheduled to go on the Young show to discuss George Floyd and the protests against police brutality, but his remarks quickly shifted to the mismanaged primary.

“After he left, all my callers wanted to talk about was how can we fix the system so people can’t steal votes and tip elections,” Young said.

State election officials Nikki Charlson and Linda Lamone, in 2016, answer questions about the primary election vote count for Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

In 2016, Linda Lamone (right) and Nikki Charlson of the State Board of Elections answer questions about discrepancies in Baltimore’s primary vote, which saw Catherine Pugh narrowly defeat Sheila Dixon. (Fern Shen)

Public Shares the Blame

Jones, who has been Baltimore’s elections director since 2007 and president of the elections board before that, defended the way his office and the SBE handled the primary.

“Any time you have a process, you’re going to find some issues, and things that need to be critiqued. There were some lessons learned in this process.”

He said Gov. Hogan’s decision to delay the primary from April 28 to June 2 and order a mostly mail-in election to protect the public from the spread of Covid-19 through in-person voting posed many challenges for state and city officials.

“Changing election dates made things real tight. You have to get a good start to get a good finish. I think, with respect to the state and what they did to try and get everything going with the ballots, things went well. I’m sure they have some lessons learned. I do as well.”

“It’s not my fault and not the state board’s fault. It’s the individual’s fault to not put the proper information in”  – Armstead Jones.

He said voters share the blame for “undeliverable” ballots because many had failed to update their home addresses.

“Hearing people say 19,000 ballots were undeliverable, it’s a shame. . . It’s not my fault and not the state board’s fault. It’s the individual’s fault to not put the proper information in, so we can send them a ballot.”

“I found many addresses that were vacant lots” during a sampling of ballots to be mailed to voters, he concluded.

Recent Brew Stories on the Elections Boards:

They got their ballots, but the ballots were wrong (6/2/20)

Why vote in person? Because this mail-in primary does not inspire confidence, some voters say (6/2/20)

Voters decry delay in getting additional dropboxes in place (5/29/20)

Baltimore’s preliminary ballots are coming, state elections board says (5/18/20)

Ballots for Maryland’s June 2 primary have incorrect date (5/5/20)

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