Reprinting Primary Election Ballots Could Be Costly for Counties

Reprinting Primary Election Ballots Statewide Would Cost $3.5 million – With Counties Footing 50% of the Bill

The sudden death of Baltimore County Executive and gubernatorial candidate Kevin Kamenetz sent shockwaves across Maryland. Under state law, his running mate, former Montgomery County Councilmember Valerie Ervin, has until May 17 to decide whether to dissolve the campaign, name someone to take Kamenetz’s place, or run for governor herself and name a lieutenant governor running mate.

Regardless of how Ervin chooses to move forward, and with just weeks to go before Maryland’s gubernatorial primary election, one question is front and center: Will the State Board of Elections be required to reprint some 747 versions of the primary ballot?

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month that the State Board of Elections did not have to print new ballots to remove the name of former state senator Nathaniel Oaks, who petitioned to have his name removed from the ballot after resigning from office. With the primary election set for June 26, and early voting starting on June 14, the State Board argued it was too late to reprint ballots.

According to Maryland Matters:

Further complicating the matter is that the State Board of Elections last week mailed all the military and overseas absentee ballots — with the Kamenetz-Ervin pairing on them — in accordance with federal law requiring that they go out by Saturday, 45 days before the election.

Linda H. Lamone, Maryland elections administrator, said late Friday she had no plans to have the primary ballots reprinted at this point because she maintains a section of state election law gives her discretion in determining whether there is sufficient time to revise the ballots with the correct names.

And in Lamone’s assessment, there is not enough time to make any change, given the complexity of such an undertaking, the potential for error — and the fact that the overseas and military ballots already have been mailed out.

“I’m not going to do anything unless ordered by a court to do it,” she said.

State and local election officials are responsible for proofreading, testing, and printing all 747 configurations of the primary ballot, which are specific to Maryland’s varying congressional, legislative, and local districts.

Lamone estimates that reprinting ballots statewide would cost around $3.5 million – with counties footing 50% of the bill.

In 2001, on the heels of the well-documented national election and passage of the federal Help America Vote Act, Maryland passed legislation establishing a statewide uniform voting system, to be certified by the State Board of Elections. (See HB 1457 of 2001)  HB 1457 created an even split of funding responsibility for voting machines and related systems – from Section 4 of that bill:

[E]ach county shall pay its share of one-half of the State’s cost of acquiring and operating the uniform statewide voting systems for voting in polling places and for absentee voting provided for under this Act, including the cost of maintenance, storage, printing of ballots, technical support and programming, related supplies and materials, and software licensing fees.

Ultimately, the laws governing the reprinting of election ballots, including how much authority the State Board has in determining whether such a reprint is necessary, are somewhat ambiguous. Should Ervin elect to stay in the race, she may request that primary ballots be reprinted. Given that the State Board seems unlikely to grant such a request, the question of whether or not to reprint primary election ballots will likely be adjudicated in the courts.