Katherine Berry has worked with the Carroll County Board of Elections since 2006 and was appointed election director for the county in 2015.
If early voting is any indication — Berry said nearly 14 percent of registered voters in Carroll took part in early voting — a lot of democratic enthusiasm should be on display at the polls on Tuesday.
The Times caught up with Berry to see how the Board of Elections will keep the polls running smoothing and securely on Election Day.
Q: The presidential campaign this cycle has seemingly lasted forever and has been very polarizing, reports of family Facebook feuds and anxiety attacks abound. Local school board campaigns are also coming in hot after a year that saw several schools closed. Has all this created any noticeable changes in Carroll County? More calls or questions sent to the Board of Elections? More voter registrations?
A: Presidential election cycles historically see an 80 percent turnout. This is our busiest election out of a four-year period. We always have an increase in the number of phone calls and interactions with voters in the months leading up to the election. Our voter registration totals have increased since the 2014 gubernatorial general election. We had 112,946 active voters in 2014 and currently have 121,051 active voters, but again, we typically see an increase in registrations leading into a presidential election cycle.
Q: Early voting certainly seems super charged this year. How does the turnout compare with years prior?
A: 2010 was the gubernatorial election cycle and the general election saw 5,210 (4.95 percent of the registered voters at the time) voters come to early voting. Early voting was open for a shorter number of hours on Sunday and available for six days. 2012 during the presidential general election, the early voting turnout was 10,408 (9.43 percent of the registered voters at the time). Early voting was closed because of Hurricane Sandy for two days and resulted in five days that voters could vote with extended hours of early voting. In 2014, early voting was 8 days for the same amount of hours each day [and] 8,016 (7.10 percent of the registered voters at the time) people came to vote during the gubernatorial general election.
Legislation was passed to implement longer hours of operation for early voting in the 2016 presidential general election to 12 hours as opposed to the 10 hours held in the 2014 election and 2016 presidential primary election for eight days. As of the end of the seventh day, 16,603 (13.94 percent of registered voters) people voted in Carroll County.
The Code of Maryland states that counties with less than 125,000 active registered voters should have one early voting center with an option of a second if approved through the county budget process, which has not happened yet. At 125,000 the law mandates that we have three early voting centers with the option of a fourth. The Board of Elections has many requirements that must be met when considering a potential early voting center.
Q: Two topics that keep coming up at the national level are voter fraud and voter suppression. Have either been an issue in Carroll County in recent memory? How does the Board of Elections ensure a fair, free and secure election here in Carroll?
A: Beginning in the early 2000s, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that required provisional ballots to be issued for any voter that may have a change of address or otherwise could not be located on a precinct register, or if they are coded as already voted. There are circumstances where clerical mistakes happen or voters are checked in incorrectly, too. Provisional ballots are part of the checks and balances of the voting process that Maryland has implemented.
We are able to research double-voting issues and report these individuals to the Attorney General's office. We also use a tool called ERIC, or Electronic Registration Information Center, which is a cross-state report of voter moves, deaths, etc., as a mechanism for voter registration data integrity. ERIC was started by Pew Charitable Trust several years ago and Maryland was one of the first states that joined.
Likewise, voters are asked to state his/her name, address and month and day of birth to the election judges checking in at a polling location as a means of verification. The election judges and Board of Elections are guided under the Maryland State Board of Elections to execute the laws and regulations of the State of Maryland. We have not had any specific incidences of voter fraud that the Board of Elections is aware of and because provisional ballots are in place, every person that walks into a polling place has the right to vote at least the provisional ballot. In addition, we have a challenger and watcher process and no electronic devices are permitted to be in polling rooms.
Absentee ballots require an application be completed and the voter to sign an oath before mailing in a designated envelope. We account for and give voting credit to each voter that has voted. All absentee ballots are counted no matter what the outcome of election day is and the counting is open to the public on Nov. 10 and Nov. 18 at 10 a.m. Provisional ballots are canvassed on Nov. 16 at 10 a.m.
Q: Are there any changes in the way voting is being conducted this year?
A: Maryland implemented a new paper-based voting system beginning in the primary election in April. All voters will vote on paper and scan their ballot into the scanning unit where it is tabulated. A digital image of the ballot is captured as the ballot is scanned and Maryland will be the first state nationwide to conduct a 100 percent audit of the election results in the days following the election.
Q: How about a quick review: When are polls open on Tuesday, when do they close, and what do people need in order to vote?
A: The polls are open on Tuesday, Nov. 8 beginning at 7 a.m. and they will close at 8 p.m. Voters who are in line by 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
A: I have worked here for 10 years and watched the process evolve from all-mail voter registration and absentee ballot applications and touchscreen voting only on election day to online acceptance of voter registration and absentee ballot applications. Additionally, the implementation of the paper-based voting system and early voting has become increasingly popular since it began in 2010. The best part about being involved in the process is seeing voters exercise their right to vote and watching our election judges bring back the voting supplies so we can run the election results on election night. Everyone in elections from the staff to election judges across the state are dedicated to the process and it is a pleasure to work with such a great group of people.