Ocean Pines Board Appoints New Elections Committee

OCEAN PINES – Following the resignation of elections committee members, the Ocean Pines Board of Directors voted last week to appoint five new volunteers.

Last Saturday, the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) Board of Directors voted to appoint George Alston, Elaine Brady, Nanci Osborne, Tom Piatti and Thomas Schwartz to a first term on the elections committee. While the board had received eight applications to serve on the committee, one association member had withdrawn her application and two had submitted their applications later than the rest.

“Resolution C-08, section 4, notes that the elections committee shall consist of five members including the chair,” Association President Doug Parks said. “Therefore, the next two appointments certainly are valid, but since the committee is full my recommendation is to do what we did in the past and keep these two applications on file should any of the appointed members not be able to fill their duties on the committee.”

Earlier this month, Parks announced several resignations from the elections committee. While he did not identify who or how many from the committee had resigned, the association’s website has since removed the names of all serving members.

“Unfortunately, the Board has received resignations from several members of the Elections Committee,” he said. “The decision from each committee member to resign was their own decision alone.”

He continued, “We are saddened these volunteers chose to resign their position, as the work they have done and the time they have spent supporting the community has been commendable. The Board thanks them for their volunteer spirit and their willingness to step up and serve the Association.”

Parks’ announcement came less than a week after the elections committee held a hand count of paper ballot votes from the 2022 Board of Directors election, which revealed significant discrepancies in vote totals for the six candidates.

“This hand count also verified that the tabulation program needs to be investigated to identify the reason for the reporting an excess of votes, above the maximum number of paper ballots, that were scanned on 8/11/22,” a report from former committee chair Carol Ludwig reads. “The failure to verify the information generated by the tabulation program resulted in an inaccurate report of results by Elections Committee Chair.”

Election results were first called into question last month when the committee released its report on the 2022 election.

In August, the committee announced the six candidates – Steve Jacobs, Stuart Lakernick, Josette Wheatley, Paula Gray, Rakowski and Peck – received a total of 9,053 votes. The report, however, states a total of 2,839 online and paper ballots were returned in the 2022 board election. With each property given the opportunity to vote for up to three candidates, that would mean a maximum 8,517 votes could be counted.

To that end, the committee announced plans to hold a hand count of paper ballot votes, which revealed five of the six candidates had between 100 and 300 less votes than originally reported. The difference between the third- and fourth- place candidates had also narrowed from 152 votes to 15 votes, and the total number of votes had decreased from 9,053 to 8,113.

During public comments at last week’s board meeting, former elections committee member Mary Anne Whitcomb offered her apologies for the inaccurate vote count and a potential explanation for the erroneous numbers.

“We knew the Snap Survey software used to tally scanned paper ballots had problems …,” she said. “Prior to counting actual ballots, we worked with IT staff to test the software with test ballots. We wonder if those test ballots were the cause of the erroneous additional votes.”

She added, however, that the committee could not investigate the issue.

“We could not further explore this, as OPA has the computer with this data and we were told not to contact OPA staff,” she said. “This was very worrisome to us. This is a departure from the current operations.”

She continued, “For example, if a member requests an additional or duplicate ballot, they contact the elections committee and elections committee works with Ruth Ann Meyer [assessments and memberships manager]. If we couldn’t do this directly, we couldn’t do our job … We wish new members of the elections committee well and encourage the board to allow them to operate independently.”

Whitcomb also asked the board to consider eliminating the use of paper ballots.

“We also ask the board to post our amended annual report and encourage consideration of the recommendation to go to online and phone-in voting,” she said, “avoiding current software problems. You may know there were no errors in the online voting.”

Following the appointment of new committee members last week, Parks said the board would continue to accept applications.

“I want the community to know anybody that submits an application for a committee will be considered by the board, whether or not it’s endorsed by the liaison, the chair,” he said.

The board will also consider hiring a forensic auditor to audit the 2022 board election in a special meeting held too late to be included in this week’s edition of the paper.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.