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Q&A: Carroll County Elections Director Katherine Berry on the postponed election, procedures, precautions

Katherine Berry
Katherine Berry (HANDOUT)

Social distancing efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 are affecting more than schools, businesses and family life, they’re impacting the schedule of elections across the country. Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Ohio have postponed their presidential primaries, for instance, while Wisconsin’s April 7 elections resulted in a high voter turnout despite the Democratic governor’s unsuccessful legal bid to postpone the voting.

Maryland’s presidential primary election, originally scheduled for April 28, has also been postponed. The Times recently caught up with Carroll County Elections Director Katherine Berry to learn more.

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Q: Let’s start with the basics. For those that didn’t know or lost track given all that’s going on, when was Maryland’s primary election supposed to take place, is it still happening and if so, when?

A: Governor Hogan issued a Proclamation postponing the presidential primary election to June 2, 2020.

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Q: As far as you know, is the idea of postponing the primary any further being considered?

A: Not that I am aware of.

Q: So the election is still on. But how is that going to work? There has been talk about going to all mail-in voting in some jurisdiction to avoid any risk of spreading COVID-19, but then it’s entirely possible the risk is significantly lower by election day here. What’s the plan and what do people need to know?

A: Governor Hogan’s proclamation declared that Maryland will have a vote by mail election with limited in-person voting on June 2. All active voters will be mailed a ballot in early May. Voters should review their registration information at the voter lookup tool on the Maryland State Board of Election website at https://voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/VoterSearch.

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Voters will have instructions included in their ballot that include how voters should secure their ballot once it is voted, making sure to sign the outer envelope that has the voter’s oath and how to get the ballot back to the Carroll County Board of Elections. The envelope for the voted ballot will have prepaid postage so it can be mailed or it can be inserted into a drop box that will be located at the Westminster Senior Center 125 Stoner Avenue Westminster, The Robert Moton Center Building where the Board of Elections is located at 300 South Center Street Westminster, or the South Carroll Swim Club 1900 W. Liberty Road Westminster. More details regarding days and hours of operation of the drop boxes will be available in the near future.

Limited in-person voting will be available at the Westminster Senior Center and South Carroll Swim Club on June 2 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for those that need to vote in person. There are only two vote centers available and there will be a limited number of election judges so that we can continue to abide by social distancing requirements. Voters should consider the exposure of COVID-19 to the individuals that must vote in-person so that we can avoid long wait times and lines. Voters should visit a vote center only if they need to.

We will be making the ballot counting process — also known as canvass — available through live streaming. Ballots will begin to be reviewed and tabulated in a scanning unit around May 21. Results will not be released until after 8 p.m. on June 2. We will continue tabulating ballots for several days after June 2.

Voters can check the status of their ballot by visiting: voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/VoterSearch.

If you do not have internet access, call 1-800-222-8683 and ask a State Board of Elections representative to check the status of your voted ballot. The information will be posted about 10 days after the election.

Q: Given the delay, are there normal things people should be checking or doing to prepare for the primary — or general — elections that they now have a little bit more time to get down if they have before?

A: Voters should make sure that they are registered to vote at voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/VoterSearch and confirm that their physical address and mailing address are correct. Voters must make sure that their party affiliation is the desired choice because for this primary election, they will receive only that party ballot. If a voter is registered as anything other than the two majority parties, they will receive a non-partisan ballot, which includes only the Board of Education race.

Voters can update their address and/or party affiliation information until May 27 at voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/OnlineVoterRegistration/InstructionsStep1.

If a voter hasn’t received a ballot by mid-May, they should call our office at 410-386-2080 or email ccboe@carrollcountymd.gov.

Voters can follow us on Facebook and Twitter and take a look at our website for a sample of their ballot and to get other information. We will be keeping voters updated on all election processes through these outlets.

Q: What precautions are Board of Elections staff going to take leading up to and during the election to stay safe, assuming the threat of COVID-19 is still ongoing at that time?

A: Staff will be following all [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines while working in the administrative office. The Maryland State Board of Elections has stated the importance of staff from the local boards of elections to limit their exposure to the general public at our vote centers and other activities outside of the administrative tasks of the office and canvass of the ballots. The Carroll County Board of Elections has seven staff, so it is critical that all staff do not display symptoms of COVID-19 that would result in quarantine because we are on a very specific timeline of completing critical tasks that are the core of the electoral process.

Q: Anything else you think is important for people to know that we haven’t yet covered?

A: Carroll County residents are not part of Congressional District 7, so voters should not expect to receive a ballot for the April 28 Special General Election for the Congressional District 7 seat.

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Voters do not need to complete an absentee ballot application unless they wish to receive their ballot through online ballot delivery or if they would like to have their ballot mailed to a different address than where they are registered. If a voter chooses online ballot delivery, they should be prepared to download and print their ballot to be mailed to the Board of Elections. It cannot be emailed back to the Board of Elections.

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If voters have questions, they should email us at ccboe@carrollcountymd.gov or call 410-386-2080.

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