Voting advocates and elected officials are urging citizens to think now about how they will cast their votes for the Presidential General Election. Your options to safely and securely cast your ballots are to do so by U.S. mail, by placing your ballot in one of the ballot drop boxes, or showing up in person at one of the 42 polling places during the early voting period, Oct. 26 through Nov. 2, and on Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Interest in the 2020 election is high, as voters will select their choice for U.S. President—Republican Donald Trump vs. Democratic Joe Biden—and for the congressional seats. Incumbents U.S. Reps. John Sarbanes in Congressional District 2, Dutch Ruppersberger in Congressional District 3 and Kweisi Mfume in Congressional District 7 are up for re-election to a two-year term.
Because of the pandemic, the election process has not returned to normal, but it offers more in-person voting. Additionally, the number of polling places was reduced from 236 to 42 sites. A key difference for this election is that to vote by mail, you must request a mail-in ballot from the State Board of Elections or the Baltimore County Election Board before Oct. 20. (Go to elections.maryland.gov.) For previous elections, voters were automatically mailed a ballot.
Baltimore County Election Director Katie Brown shared that info in a Sept. 14 online update to state legislators. The Baltimore County House delegation, chaired by Del. Pat Young of District 44B, hosted the information session at which legislators asked about election security, safety measures and on the voting process. Some made requests based on their constituent needs for additional polling places, signage to be placed about the 200-plus inactive voting sites, and better guidance on the website.
The election board is currently projecting a turnout of 75 percent of registered voters—more than 419,000 residents. To date, the Baltimore County Board of Elections has received more than 125,000 requests for mail-in ballots. According to Boards of Elections officials, ballots will be in the mail beginning the first week of October. Canvassing, or counting, of mail-in ballots will begin Oct. 19. The results will not be shared until Nov. 3.
Concerns about safety amid the coronavirus pandemic impacted recruitment for election judges, many of whom are seniors and are at risk for COVID-19, were also addressed. While the county has currently recruited all 1,500 election judges required to staff voting centers throughout early voting and on Election Day, local officials say they will continue to recruit people to serve as substitute judges. Recruitment was likely helped by the county providing a $100 pay incentive to go on top of existing pay rates for election judges.
To address safety concerns about those working and voters, Brown said, “All of our judges will have face shields, and masks will be available for voters who don’t have one. Gloves, spray bottles of hand sanitizers, gel sanitizer and wipes will also be available.” Judges will be shown how to clean between each voter. The Baltimore County Health Department will help with social distancing outside and election staff will help with social distancing inside.
Residents who receive their ballot by mail may hand deliver their ballot to the local board of election by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, or take it to an early voting center, an election day polling center or place it in one of secure ballot drop-off boxes in the county. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully, officials advise, particularly to sign the return envelope and not the ballot.
If you mail your ballot, it must be postmarked on or before General Election Day on Nov. 3, and received by your local board of elections by 10 a.m. on Nov. 13. Elections officials advise that you mail the ballot early in the postage-paid envelope to avoid it getting caught in postal service backlogs. Brown advises that voters allow five to six days for mailing to make sure it is received on time, and cautions that putting your ballot in a mailbox on Nov. 3 does not mean it is postmarked on that date.
Baltimore County is providing 13 secure ballot drop boxes, one at each of the 11 early voting locations and additional drop boxes at the Board of Elections office in Hunt Valley and at Hereford High School. Drop boxes will be set up around the first week of October, Brown said. Residents can drop their ballot off in a drop box at the other polling locations once they’re set up the week prior to early voting.
“Drop boxes will be under 24-hour manned surveillance security and ballots will be picked up from drop boxes twice a day,” said Brown. “There will be chain of custody [with documentation] to be filled out from time picked up from ballot boxes and dropped off at the election office. Ballots will be transported via lock and secure ballot bin, boxes are sealed and tamper-proof tape put on.”
Baltimore County will operate 42 in-person voting sites on Election Day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. (See the sidebar on page 4.) Your normal voting center will likely not be open and there may not be signage, so be sure to review the list of locations in advance. Residents wishing to vote on Election Day can vote at any location.
There are provisions in place to prevent duplicate voting. “Once you request a ballot, you will be marked in the electronic poll book on election day as doing a vote by mail ballot, which would require you to vote by provisional ballot on election day,” Brown explained. All provisional ballots are counted, whether or not the
Brown said the election board is taking extra steps to make sure every vote counts. “Be sure to sign the oath on back of envelope, and don’t make any other markings on the ballot itself. Just vote your choices and seal the envelope. Signatures and other markings on the ballot and not signing the oath was a big rejection reason the last time, she said. “If we receive a ballot back that an oath isn’t signed, we will do our best to contact the voter and send them a copy of that oath, along with postage envelope for them to sign it and get it back to us.”
“Protecting the right to vote is fundamental to the strength and stability of our democracy. We’re urging residents to make their plan to vote now,” said Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski.
Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones stated, “It’s imperative that we do everything we can to make our voices heard and participate in the electoral process. The future of our communities are at stake. So, make sure you request your ballot now and make plans for you and your families to vote this fall.”
Remember, that to vote you must be registered to vote. You can register before Oct. 13 online or in person during early voting or election day.