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Electronic voting safety assured

Election Committee wants to reassure voters their privacy will be protected

By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer

One of the priorities for the Ocean Pines Elections Committee ahead of the board of directors election in

The Ocean Pines Elections Committee decided against touching anything that could even remotely link it to voter emails for the upcoming board elections, scrapping an email blast regarding online voting procedures. Next week, mailers will be sent out to all eligible voters with both a paper ballot and instructions for voting online. JACK CHAVEZ/BAYSIDE GAZETTE

August is to ensure voter privacy and to allay any concerns about the security of electronic voting.

Those goals were front and center during the committee’s latest meeting on Friday.

The committee pored over the voting directions, which include a paper ballot and instructions to vote online, to be sent to voting-eligible Ocean Pines Association members next week. In particular, the committee wanted to make sure the information is clear and that there would be no confusion over how far the committee will be removed from the online voting process.

The OPA board voted on June 27 to allow electronic voting for annual elections and referendums.

“We have recommended electronic transmission to help our voters understand that a lot of the issues that come up about integrity of the vote are eliminated by doing it electronically,” committee chair Carol Ludwig said after the meeting. “It’s a third party. None of us touch anything. The only thing we get our hands on is paper ballots and we have to go through those. That, to me, is not as private or efficient as people voting online.”

During the meeting, Ludwig discussed telling the online voting vendor, Vote HOA, to refrain from sending eligible voters access to vote.

“When we send the names of eligible voters to the assessment database, they will assign random numbers for them and send them back. That’s what we provide to the printer,” Ludwig said. “If they have an email address on the list, they will send them a connection but I think I’m going to tell them not to do that. We need the people to log on and do their thing rather than have them receive an email, though the emails in the assessment database are probably good.”

Committee member Mary Anne Whitcomb responded by raising concern about the wording of the instructions and how it could be misconstrued as insinuating the committee indeed collects email addresses.

“The problem is there’s been a lot of stuff on social media that somebody has emails and they’re sending them out with these nasty things about the candidates. I don’t want to be in a position where I have people’s emails,” she said.

“(The instructions say) ‘If we do not have your email address on file or you do not know your code, you can still vote online. Please contact the Elections Committee or go to the web address below.’ It sounds like you can contact the Elections Committee to find out your email on file. That’s how it reads. ‘Please contact the Elections Committee to get your vote.’”

Relevant election dates this year include:

Cutoff date for voter eligibility – Wednesday, July 6

Ballots mailed – Week of July 12

Ballot Deadline – Wednesday, Aug. 10 by 4 p.m.

Ballots counted and vote totals announced – Thursday, Aug. 11 starting at 10 a.m. in the Clubhouse Meeting Room

Annual Meeting – Saturday, Aug. 13. Time and Venue TBD

Another issue was voter codes being featured on the mailers. It was decided after some discussion between the committee and Thom Gulyas, president of ACE Printing and Mailing who is also a candidate in the Worcester County Commissioners elections, that the codes would go on the top of the instructions page in what Gulyas described as “very big letters” in the meeting.

Committee member Bob Windsor asked if exclusively electronic voting is the goal in the future.

“That’s why we’re going through this exercise,” Ludwig replied.

Before exiting the meeting, Gulyas asked about the timing of when the mailers would be sent out and Ludwig said that a decision on whether to go forward with a hybrid annual meeting was holding up the process.

“Through the whole (process) I’ve held that (online attendees) have to have some type of identification. They log onto Microsoft Teams and request to get in,” Ludwig said. “We look up the information they put in there and make them turn their camera on and they have to show a picture ID.”

“I made them pay attention to the fact that in person, you have to have a picture ID. So online, they’re going to have to do the same thing. I said I’m not going to put the Elections Committee at risk over that.”

Later in the meeting, the committee discussed duplicate ballots and Ludwig pointed out that any extra markings on ballots or envelopes will render the ballot invalid.

“If anybody blacks out their section number, we’re not accepting that. Because we can’t see if it’s a duplicate,” she said. “Why do we get duplicates from the same address? I don’t get it.”

“The sad thing is they don’t realize that … if we get a duplicate, we can go through and identify who sent those in. But we never do. We just discard the duplicate.”

This story appears in the print version of the Bayside Gazette on July 7, 2022.