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Baltimore County election officials urge voting by mail, plan to request 31 voting centers on Election Day

Board of Elections workers, from left, Jessica Fleming and Amanda White, count and collect ballots dropped off at the official ballot drop box located at Martin's West, one of three in-person voting centers April 28 for the 7th Congressional District special election to fill the seat made vacant by the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Board of Elections workers, from left, Jessica Fleming and Amanda White, count and collect ballots dropped off at the official ballot drop box located at Martin's West, one of three in-person voting centers April 28 for the 7th Congressional District special election to fill the seat made vacant by the death of Rep. Elijah Cummings. (Amy Davis)

Baltimore County election officials are seeking to reduce the county’s typical 230 polling places into just 31 voting centers on Election Day.

And the head of elections Katie Brown has a message for voters: “Please vote by mail, vote by mail, vote by mail.”

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The Baltimore County Board of Elections is vetting potential voting center sites this week for the presidential election Nov. 3 before it reviews a final list at its next meeting Aug. 26 and submits that plan to the State Board of Elections for approval.

Voters will have the choice to cast ballots by mail, in person or at one of the county’s 11 ballot boxes during early voting in late October and the general election. Unlike the primary election, ballots will not be mailed automatically to registered voters, and those who wish to vote by mail or through a ballot box must request a provisional ballot through the State Board of Elections by Oct. 20.

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State officials plan to mail all voters an absentee ballot application at the end of this month, or voters can request one sooner, which vote-by-mail advocates encourage.

Voters who request provisional ballots cannot then vote in person; those ballots will not be counted until Nov. 12.

Of Baltimore County’s 555,000 registered active voters, nearly 7% have already requested a mail-in ballot for the general election amid the coronavirus pandemic, Brown said.

Brown said 27 of the potential voting centers have previously been used as polling places; surveys are being circulated to assess the capacity of those locations and to ensure that social distancing measures can be followed should a large number of voters turn out.

The county had four voting centers open during the primary election in June, and wait times were exacerbated in the evening hours, Brown said.

Voting centers, unlike polling places, can be accessed by any voter in a given jurisdiction and are opening in lieu of polling places across the state after Gov. Larry Hogan this month approved a plan to offer just 360 voting centers throughout Maryland for the November election despite his “serious concerns” about the proposal.

Hogan’s decision gives the State Board of Elections authority to proceed with the voting center plan as an alternative to opening about 1,600 polling places this fall.

Reducing the number of polling places means fewer than half of the county’s usual 4,000 election judges will be needed to help voters cast their ballots amid a statewide shortage of election judges. The Baltimore Sun reported July 23 that the state is short nearly 14,000 election judges due to the pandemic.

Elections officials have gotten a slew of calls — from former judges to those who have never done it before — offering to help run election sites in the fall, Brown said.

“We’re not in the dire need that we were before,” she added.

The ballot boxes will be installed mid-October and will be secured with guards and a video monitoring system. Voters can drop their ballots from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. during early voting, starting Oct. 26, and on Election Day:

  • Towson University, South Campus Pavilion, 15 Auburn Drive in Towson
  • Arbutus Community Center, 865 Sulphur Spring Road in Arbutus
  • Honeygo Run Community Center, 9033 Honeygo Blvd. in Perry Hall
  • Sollers Point Multi-Purpose Center, 323 Sollers Point Road in Dundalk
  • Randallstown Community Center, 3505 Resource Drive in Randallstown
  • Victory Villa Community Center, 404 E. Compass Road in Baltimore
  • Baltimore County Board of Elections, 11112 Gilroy Road, Suite 104, in Hunt Valley
  • Reisterstown Senior Center — Hannah More Campus, 12035 Reisterstown Road in Reisterstown
  • Woodlawn Community Center, 2120 Gwynn Oak Ave. in Woodlawn
  • Jacksonville Recreation Center at Sweet Air Park, 3605 B Sweet Air Road in Jacksonville
  • County Campus Metro Centre at Owings Mills, 10302 Grand Central Ave. in Owings Mills

Still, Brown stressed that mail is the safest method by which to vote — despite ongoing election concerns because of delivery delays at the United States Postal Service — and warned that those who want to vote in person will have to exercise patience.

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“We do still have to abide by the social distancing [guidance],” Brown said. “We’re not gonna be able to have these long lines of people gathered, scrunched together.”

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