Pines Board Considers Forensic Audit Of 2022 Election

Pines Board Considers Forensic Audit Of 2022 Election
Elections Committee volunteers are pictured counting ballots during this summer's 2022 board election. Photo by Bethany Hooper

OCEAN PINES – Officials in Ocean Pines will seek a committee’s help to investigate voting discrepancies before hiring a firm to complete a forensic audit of the 2022 board election.

The Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors had before them last Thursday a motion to authorize a forensic auditor to determine the reason for vote discrepancies in the 2022 election. That motion, however, was ultimately tabled after board members agreed to first ask the elections committee for assistance.

“I’m not in favor of spending money at this time,” said Association President Doug Parks. “I believe, firmly, that the committee can go out and take a look at it.”

Results from the 2022 board election were first called into question last month, when a hand count of votes revealed significant discrepancies in vote totals. 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.

“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 the 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.”

Following the resignations of elections committee members, the board earlier this month voted to appoint five new volunteers. In last week’s special meeting, Director Frank Daly noted those resignations made his motion for hiring an auditing firm a necessary step.

“Per governing documents, the 2022 election is settled,” he said. “The audit is not a recount. The intent of this audit is to reconcile certain differences identified by the election committee that conducted the 2022 election.”

Daly noted that the report from the elections committee showed the number of votes cast exceeded the number of ballots received. He noted that questions surrounding the use of the ballot scanner and the tabulation of votes from multiple-lot owners remained.

“The number of votes is determined by the number of lots. And you can be a multiple-lot owner, and therefore on a ballot you may not have the same number of tabulated votes as a single lot owner …,” he explained. “We also don’t know how many of those ballots going through the paper system or the electronic system that might have been from multiple lot owners where the votes were not tabulated correctly or under-tabulated. We just don’t have a handle on it.”

Daly told board members a forensic audit could determine the cause of the vote discrepancy and lead to procedures changes that would prevent similar issues from occurring in future elections.

“The objectives of this are really to determine do we have a systematic problem, and have we had a systematic problem where the number of votes cast exceed the number of votes expected,” he said. “Because that would need to be fixed, and it could’ve existed in the past, multiple times.”

Director Monica Rakowski said she wanted more information on test ballots, scanning, and procedures. She added that while she supported a review of the 2022 election, she had concerns about the cost.

“I’m not sure I want to spend association dollars to do it, but I would like to see things in place that address your concerns, my concerns and we follow our bylaws and resolutions through the process,” she said.

Director Rick Farr argued an audit of the 2022 election would be an expensive undertaking. He noted that vote discrepancies, policies and procedures could be further investigated by the new elections committee.

“I think what we should do first is have the elections committee do a deep dive to figure out what the issues are …,” he said. “If there are issues they can’t resolve, then we can come back and look at this motion and see what it’s going to cost to move forward on this.”

Director Steve Jacobs disagreed.

“With all due respect, asking the elections committee to do a deep dive is asking a bunch of volunteers to do something they may not be prepared for or able to undertake,” he said.

Jacobs argued that a forensic audit was needed, as the association had a series of upcoming votes, including a referendum on short-term rental regulations and the 2023 board election.

“If we are going to spend money on something we haven’t budgeted for, getting to the point of doing something as basic as an election without a lot of fuss and feathers is sort of a good way to spend some money,” he said.

Horn agreed a forensic audit was a good investment.

“What I’m hearing on the street is that our members have lost faith in our election process and the integrity of our elections,” she said, “which leads me to believe that what’s going to be most important for us to engage going forward is an independent firm to look at this process and answer the questions.”

Rakowski, however, encouraged the board to consider issuing a request for proposals (RFP).

“I’m OK with an RFP, not spending money …,” she said. “I think we need to do more due diligence before that happens.”

For his part, Director Stuart Lakernick said he supported having the elections committee investigate issues pertaining to the 2022 election.

“I don’t know I’m really sold on spending association money to find out where the mistakes were in the past,” he said. “We had two recounts, and even though the counts have been dissimilar, it’s over. It’s time to move on.”

Daly, however, questioned if the elections committee would be able to identify the issues.

“If they could reconcile the difference between the ballots, the lots and the votes, it would’ve been done on September 30,” he said. “That requires specialized auditing techniques I’m 100% sure no member of the committee has.”

After further discussion, the board voted unanimously to table Daly’s motion and to ask the elections committee chair if the group could investigate the issue. Officials also agreed to seek proposals from forensic auditing firms.

“December 1, as far as I’m concerned, is the drop-dead date,” Daly said. “We either get these questions answered by December 1 by the elections committee or we go to a forensic audit.”

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.