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By Rob O’Connor
Chief Technology Officer
Baltimore County Office of Information Technology

The Office of Information Technology prides itself on its role in making County Government more effective and efficient.  When we were asked to work with the Board of Elections following reports of polling place delays at some voting precincts during the 2016 General Election, we took immediate action. 

A team of Baltimore County process management and technical analysts identified and corrected mechanical issues that were causing completed ballots to misfeed into the ballot scanning machines, particularly at the Edgemere and Rodger’s Forge Elementary precincts. In coordination with the Baltimore County Board of Elections, the County has taken several concrete steps to ensure that voters are not stuck in long lines due to easily remedied technical and training fixes.

The intensive hands-on study, "Evaluating the 2016 Voting Process in Baltimore County," was conducted by business process analysts in the County’s Office of Information Technology’s Operational Excellence division, and it found sources of delay at several polling place stations.

Rather than throwing money blindly at the problem we conducted a comprehensive review and determined that the solution was to make simple changes to the process and training protocols to ensure that voters can move freely through election stations. The County purchased 52 additional scanners to be placed in precincts identified as having higher voter demand than their current scanners can efficiently handle, and to serve as back-up machines.

How the Scanner Delays Were Corrected

Performance issues were identified at the scanning stations, where an excessive number of ballots were returned to the voter with the instructions to reorient the ballot and attempt scanning again. Research revealed two primary contributing factors that could explain those errors, and the project team found that the errors were most likely when both of these factors were present to some degree.​

1. The printing vendor who produces the ballots for the State of Maryland had not received a quality assurance overlay gauge to ensure that the timing marks along the side of the ballots were aligned to the manufacturer’s specifications.  The timing marks are used by the scanner to properly identify ballot orientation and correctly match the voter’s mark on the paper to the proper candidate.  If those marks are misaligned, the scanner cannot accurately record votes, so the ballot is returned to the voter.

Solution: The scanner manufacturer provided the needed overlays to the print vendor to be used to periodically check sample ballots during printing.

2. The scanner has plastic guides on either side of its lens to ensure the ballot is inserted at the proper angle.  If the ballot is inserted askew, the timing marks will not be properly read, and the ballot will be returned to the voter.

Solution: The manufacturer created a quality assurance gauge to ensure proper alignment of those guides.  All future scanners produced by the manufacturer have utilized that gauge during manufacturing, and poorly performing scanners were inspected to correct any improperly aligned guide pieces.

Our team further concluded that the scanner’s voter protection prompts may confuse voters in certain situations. They worked with the County Board of Elections to specifically train election judges to better prepare voters, as well as training elections staff when and how to contact their supervisors for rapid scanner support or replacement.

Additional Testing Shows Scanners Working Well

After the above actions were taken, our project team retested eight of the scanners that had the most errors during the 2016 election using test ballots for the 2018 primary. These ballots were printed by the state ballot vendor using the same quality assurance process used for the live ballots voters will use. The test consisted of scanning more than 300 ballots with each scanner.  During that test phase, zero errors occurred. This exceptionally positive test result has made the project team hopeful that, during the 2018 election cycle, voters will experience significantly fewer errors than during the 2016 election.

Further Tests Planned for Primary Election Cycle

During the primary election, the project team will coordinate a time study that will be facilitated by chief judges at every polling place in the County. This study will identify when delays occur, and hopefully provide insight as to the cause of those delays. If further action is required between the primary and general elections, the project team with have the ability to make those improvements.


Job readiness training available this summer in County libraries

Job Connector is bringing job readiness training into Baltimore County communities. Beginning this summer, the Baltimore County Department of Economic and Workforce Development will offer new job readiness workshops at County libraries. The workshops, designed with employer input, address essential workplace skills such as effective communication skills, maximizing time in the workplace, displaying the image of your workplace, and managing your mindset.

Each of the new Workplace Excellence sessions will meet twice a week for three weeks and be facilitated by a certified trainer from the County’s Workforce Development American Job Centers.

“This program is about customer service, bringing new Baltimore County job programs directly to people in their communities. We’re ‘going local’ to help job seekers sharpen their skills and get hired faster,” said Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler.

The free, three week sessions are geared for adult job seekers. The summer 2018 sessions will take place at the Lansdowne and Essex libraries in July and Loch Raven and Sollers Point libraries in August. Enrollment is limited. Interested County residents must apply via e-mail to jobconnector@baltimorecountymd.gov or call 410-887-8096.

“This program is an excellent example of government working smarter by bringing agencies together to help people looking for a job. Library staff and career consultants bring different skills sets, helping us provide the best service to job seekers throughout the year,” said Will Anderson, Director of the Baltimore County Department of Economic and Workforce Development.

“With 19 locations, each open 69 hours a week, our branches are gathering spaces that are accessible and trusted within the communities we serve. Our knowledgeable and friendly staff, along with public computers, loanable laptops and other essential resources, provide key tools job seekers need,” said Paula Miller, Director of the Baltimore County Public Library.

Job Connector

The Job Connector in Communities initiative is part of an innovative $2.5 million workforce program designed to assure employers have a workforce ready to fill high-demand jobs in high-demand fields. With over $5 billion in new economic development projects in the County, companies are hiring, but chronic shortages of qualified workers remain in many fields.


Job Connector starts by looking at the specific jobs and skills that are needed in the Baltimore region. This results in a better match between employer and job seeker, and more certain career paths for employees who want to know that their hard work and skills can lead to promotions and higher wage jobs.

“With low unemployment and a tight job market, companies are ready to hire today. Job Connector is helping to reduce the gap between the skills job seekers have and the skills employers need,” said Mohler.

High Demand Jobs

Research prepared for the Baltimore County Workforce Development Board identified nine key industries that will drive 75% of the job growth in Baltimore County over the next decade: Healthcare, Corporate Operations/Customer Service, Construction, Financial Services, Manufacturing, Federal Agencies, Port/Logistics/Distribution, Education, and Information Technology.

Baltimore County’s American Job Centers at Liberty Center, Hunt Valley and Eastpoint have deployed customized tool kits to help career consultants guide job seekers to training and job openings in these high-demand fields.

For more information go to baltimorecountymd.gov/jobconnector.


Approximately 37,500 Gallons Released into Beaverdam Run

Baltimore County Department of Public Works has reported a sanitary sewer overflow of 37,500 gallons at the Texas Sewage Pumping Station, located at 10320 York Road in Cockeysville. The release began at 8:50 a.m. Tuesday and was stopped within eighteen minutes, at 9:08 a.m.

The overflow occurred while crews were in the process of repairing a force main leading from the pumping station. The main was shut down Tuesday morning and the effluent routed through a pump-around so that repairs could be made. While testing the system, a joint split and the pump-around pipe discharged. The pipe material and the joints are being investigated.    

The release went into a branch of Beaverdam Run, a tributary to the Loch Raven Reservoir. As a precaution, contact with the waters of the stream should be avoided. The Baltimore County Department of Health will issue water contact advisories when necessary on the Department's website:

http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/health/environmentalhealth/watersampling/alertadvisory.html


 
 
Revised September 11, 2017