By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer
(Sept. 29, 2022) Barely a month into the 2022-23 term of the Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors, questions of election integrity and accusations of a clandestine rendezvous of association officials, both employed and elected, are dogging the new administration.
On Tuesday, the OPA announced a formal audit of the 2022 elections and then Wednesday morning, it announced that the Elections Committee will hand count the paper ballots on Friday in the Ocean Pines Golf Clubhouse.
“The OPA Board of Directors has formally directed the Elections Committee to reconvene as early as possible this week to address a discrepancy in the vote count from the recent election,” Board President Doug Parks stated in the Tuesday release.
“The intent is to have the committee audit the votes to reconcile the totals as well as research if the ‘weighting’ of ballots for association members with more than one home, or any other condition (affected) the final vote tally for each of the candidates. The meeting will be open to all association members and the date/time/location will be shared as soon as it is available.”
At the board meeting Saturday, former director Amy Peck voiced her concerns to the directors and said the number of votes tallied didn’t match the number of ballots that were mailed and collected.
“Simply put, we have more votes possible given the number of ballots, anywhere from 450 to over 1,000 ‘extra votes,’” Peck said.
The number may be even higher.
The Ocean Pines Election Committee’s annual elections report, released on Sept. 7, stated that 2,839 ballots — 811 of the electronic variety — were collected out of 7,458 ballots mailed.
This is where the cause for audit arises. With each ballot capped at three choices, no more than 8,517 votes could be counted — an unlikely total in itself as many people don’t vote for the maximum allowable number of candidates on a ballot, which significantly drives the total down.
The Elections Committee counted 9,053 votes.
From 2018 to 2021, ballots were anywhere from 87.5 percent to 95 percent filled out. Comparing 2022 to those averages, there could be thousands of extra votes.
However, Peck, who was defeated in this summer’s contest, has maintained that she does not believe the audit will change the election outcome and that her activism on this issue is not aimed at restoring her to the board but is about ensuring the future of electronic voting in Ocean Pines is not hampered by these same questions.
“My feeling is it’s very possible there’s (more than) one error. It’s not just people who voted twice (or) multiple lot owners, it isn’t just ballots being run through the scanner twice. That’s why an audit needs to be done. (There are likely) multiple errors. I want to be very clear, being conservative and ethical (in my analysis), I think there’s a high percentage that we will recount the votes and they’ll come out in exactly the same order,” Peck said.
Not helping the board’s cause in moving forward are accusations from association members that a secret meeting was held on Friday between Parks, members of the Elections Committee and OPA legal counsel.
Parks does not deny that the meeting took place but in the days after has repeatedly denied that it was a secret.
“It was done with the full knowledge of the entire board,” Parks said at the board meeting. “It was not a secret meeting. It needed to be done right away based on the availability of the Election Committee folks and the availability of our attorney, who also attended that meeting. The door was open all the time. It wasn’t secret.”
And on Monday he added: “It was open. There were no actions taken to make it closed (to the public). We need to do it quickly and that’s that … It was recounting paper ballots in front of our attorney, three members of the Elections Committee and (administrative assistant) Linda Martin.”
Parks confirmed that those in attendance were himself, Martin, Elections Committee chair Carol Ludwig, committee members Joe Peloso and Jeannie Pennington, attorney Jeremy Tucker and Ocean Pines Police Lieutenant Greg Schoepf for part of the meeting.
Parks has said that “any reasonable person” can see that there is a discrepancy, but he threw cold water on the idea that an audit could result in overturning the election — albeit not ruling it out entirely.
“The only time a recount can be requested is at the annual meeting. It’s very distinct (in our bylaws and resolutions),” he said. “The chance (for challenging the results) is not zero. They can demand it but it’s not within our governing documents. Everybody needs to be aware that’s an option.”
For now, Parks said his focus is on getting the votes right.
“I think at this point it’s very clear that there was some foul-up somewhere in the count and we’re looking into it, plain and simple,” he said. “People can have a number of different narratives if they want, but we know there’s a problem, a detailed review is required and that’s what happening.”