Thumb drive upload times are slowing Maryland's official election results - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Nov. 5, 2020 11:57 am

Thumb drive upload times are slowing Maryland’s official election results

Results are delayed in some of Maryland’s largest counties, and Baltimore city.
Thumb drives hold the voting results.

Thumb drives hold the voting results.

(Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Tony Webster, used under a Creative Commons license.

With voting complete in the 2020 election, all eyes are on the count. State workers are tallying up the votes from an election conducted with a mix of in-person and mail-in voting, stretched out over multiple weeks.

Some of the election results were still unavailable for Maryland’s largest counties on Thursday morning due to the process of transferring data from thumb drives.

Uploading and confirming votes is a manual process that takes eight to ten minutes, according to a press release from officials at the Maryland Board of Elections. Data from thumb drives is uploaded from scanners to the state’s central database, but there’s another step that requires additional confirmation.

The Maryland Board of Elections said the transfer process was stopped early Wednesday morning at 1:30 a.m., WBAL-TV reports. By the end of Election night, only 12 out of Baltimore city’s 80 thumb drives had been processed. There none from Baltimore county, and only 15 out of 160 thumb drives from Anne Arundel County, the station reported.

For 15 drives from Anne Arundel County to be processed, it would take around 150 minutes, if one considers the higher end of the state’s estimate. That’s almost three hours for less than 10% of the drives to be processed. So for 160 drives, you’d expect about 26 hours for all the votes to be counted in Anne Arundel County.

Against the backdrop of election security concerns, there’s a tradeoff at play here: The low tech process is the most secure way to transfer results, officials said, but it’s time consuming. In Maryland, the races in are essentially called, as projections were made on Election Night by news organizations like the Baltimore Sun, and candidates who came up short called the victors to succeed. It brought wins for Democrats, including City Council President Brandon Scott in the Baltimore mayor’s race, and former Vice President Joe Biden in the presidential race. But due to the thumb drives, a delay remains in  the official results that confirm it.

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Donte Kirby is a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Series: Election 2020
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