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Keyword: office of information technology

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.


Winning Programs Cover Body Worn Cameras, Veterans Resources, Brain Health and Food Insecurity 

This morning County Executive Kevin Kamenetz took time to personally thank several County employees for their innovative efforts that helped Baltimore County earn national recognition for programs including the Police Department’s new Body Worn Cameras initiative, and programs serving seniors, veterans, and more.

The County was awarded five 2017 Achievement Awards from the National Association of Counties (NACo), including one of the top “100 Brilliant Ideas at Work” designations for the Department of Aging’s Food Agent program that assigns volunteers to deliver free food to homebound seniors.

“Once again, Baltimore County was hailed as a national leader by NACo for our fresh approach to providing residents with cost-effective services in a way that emphasizes public safety, transparency and compassion,” Kamenetz said. “Our extremely dedicated Department of Aging staff really outdid themselves this year with three awards, including one of the top 100 ‘brilliant ideas at work’ awards for their Food Agent program, which proactively identifies low-income homebound seniors and coordinates regular delivery of donated groceries by volunteers.”

The Baltimore County agencies that merited national recognition this year include:

  • Baltimore County Police Department, Office of Information Technology and State’s Attorney’s Office for the Police Body-Worn Camera Program
  • Department of Aging for the Food Agent Program – “100 Brilliant Ideas at Work” Winner
  • Department of Aging for their “Brain Matters” Educational Initiative
  • Department of Aging and the HomeFront Committee of Baltimore County for the Veterans Outreach Initiative
  • Office of Information Technology for its ESRI Open Data Site transparency initiative 

“I continue to be impressed by the outstanding efforts of our County agencies and especially appreciate our employees’ commitment to building strong communities and caring for our most vulnerable people,” said Baltimore County Council Chair Tom Quirk. 


 
 
Revised September 11, 2017