The cornerstone of American democracy was laid in the Declaration of Independence — governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. The most fundamental and necessary freedom we enjoy as Americans is the right to vote, to choose the people who lead our nation. Even dictatorships like Iran hold elections give some shards of legitimacy to their despots.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced social distancing and disrupted virtually all of our normal activities: Gov. Hogan pushed back Maryland’s primary elections from April 28 to June 2, wisely acting to protect the electorate from unnecessary, risky exposure to the coronavirus. To assure that every eligible voter can exercise their fundamental right to vote, Maryland will move to vote by mail for this primary.
Carroll County Board of Elections Director Katherine Berry explained how Carroll County plans to conduct this election, telling us, “To reduce the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus, voters are strongly encouraged to vote by mail.” Here’s how the process works:
You will receive a ballot in early May, mailed to the address you used when you last filed a registration form. If you have moved since then, or if you want to change your party registration before the primary, you will need to file a new form before May 27. You can do this online by visiting the website elections.maryland.gov. If you submit a change of registration form after you receive your ballot, you’ll get a new ballot, and the old one will be voided.
Berry said that your mail-in ballot is secure. The outside of the envelope contains an identification number. Make sure to sign the oath on the outside of the postage-paid envelope when you return the ballot. The Board will mark that your ballot was received. You may also return your ballot to one of three sites in the county. See elections.carrollcountymd.gov for locations and more details on how the process will work. You may still vote in person on June 2, but only if you must, or if you require same-day registration.
Berry said that ballots received by mail or at drop-off sites will be unsealed and tabulated daily, beginning May 21. The process will be live streamed, should you wish to watch it. Results will be announced after live voting locations close on June 2, but the final tabulation process could extend as late as June 12.
She added that the vote-by-mail process is convenient, safe, and secure. One of the state’s slogans for this is “Marylanders: Vote Safe, Vote By Mail!” She noted that Carroll County will take no part in the April 28 Congressional District 7 election. Also, if you’re registered as a Democrat or Republican, your ballot lists presidential candidates no longer in the race. “We began ballot design in late February, so they contain the names of everyone in the race at that time.” Votes for all candidates on the ballot will be tallied.
Apart from the crisis that precipitated vote-by-mail, there are very good reasons for continuing this practice after social distancing is lifted. Five states have either exclusive mail-in balloting or mail-in and election-day voting. Rockville held 2019 local elections by mail. Voter “mailout” was 88% greater than the 2015 local election. Citizens for whom it’s too difficult to make it to a polling place on election day can be full participants in American democracy.
Some politicians have made concerted efforts, none fair or honorable, to limit access to voting. Voter suppression takes many forms, including voter ID laws, reduced early voting, mass purges to voter rolls, and systematic disenfranchisement. Those most affected by these democracy-damaging acts are usually people of color, students, the elderly, and rural voters. Those with disabilities also suffer restricted opportunities to exercise their franchise. Maryland is free from virtually all of these attempts to subvert our democracy; a notable exception occurred in 2010, when the Republican Party placed robocalls to try to keep Democrats from voting: hours before polls closed, the call told Democrats to stay home because O’Malley was elected governor. In 2018, heavily Democratic Dodge City, Kansas was restricted to just one polling place, not even in town, with no public transportation to it, separated from the city by heavily-used railroad tracks.
Voting by mail would have blunted the effects of these abuses. With it, more voters will be able to cast their ballots than without. Also, a large voter turnout reduces the chance of a “rigged election” and legitimizes election results. It won’t solve all the problems and inequities in our present voting system, but it corrects many of them. It’s an idea whose time has come, and it should remain. It’s a shame that it took as deadly a crisis to bring it forward.
Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at email@example.com