Regardless of how bad the coronavirus pandemic is at the time, regardless of how many election judges opt out, regardless of how long the lines are likely to be at consolidated polling places, the 2020 general election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
This is not Hong Kong. We do not simply decide that, well, there’s a lot going on, let’s just push the election back a year, President Trump’s tweet from last week notwithstanding. And the mandate for Maryland, coming from Gov. Larry Hogan, is that registered voters will be able to vote in person if they so choose, both during early voting and on Election Day.
Carroll County is dealing with the same issues as pretty much every place around the state. Maryland is facing a shortfall of perhaps 14,000 election judges, according to The Baltimore Sun, and several hundred of them are ones who, ordinarily, would be spending Election Day working to ensure everything goes smoothly and properly at the polls in Carroll.
Carroll County Election Director Katherine Berry told us we need more than 600 election judges in Carroll to properly conduct a typical election. Already, she said, the local board of elections had found that some 130 they had previously counted on would not be returning to their posts. Election judges are often retirees, older people more at-risk of dying from the coronavirus, who recognize that a crowded election site could become a hot spot for transmission. Many others, Berry said, stated that, “if the pandemic gets worse, they will also quit.”
Making things more problematic, many of those not returning served vital roles. “They’re mostly the judges in charge of the precinct — chief judges and the judges who would be responsible for same-day registration, provisional judges,” Berry told us.
In response, the Carroll County Board of Elections unanimously voted Wednesday to consolidate polling places from 36 to 17, according to Paula Troxell, deputy election director. “We’re doing the best to carry out the orders we’ve been given,” she said.
In addition to having fewer than half of the normal number of polling places open, social distancing will be observed, so the number of people allowed inside at once will be limited. Troxell said Carroll County voters will be notified in late August or early September about the polling place changes via a mailer to their registered address, according to the Board of Elections website.
Every voter in Maryland is supposed to receive an application for a mail-in ballot. But that’s adding an extra step to vote by mail that wasn’t present for the primary and will likely discourage voters from using that method. Which means many more voters than need to be will be showing up in person and standing in lines — potentially long, long lines — on Nov. 3.
We realize that many in our community have fears about voter fraud, but we would note there was no evidence of such during the primary. Besides, is there really going to be a concerted effort to suppress votes in Republican-heavy Carroll in the middle of a blue state that has thrown every electoral vote to the Democratic nominee since 1988?
Voting by mail is not perfect, but it was adequate during the primary, as the vast majority of the 43,789 Carroll countians who cast ballots did so via mail. The number of voters was down nearly 10% from the previous presidential primary, in 2016, but that primary occurred earlier in a cycle that featured far more interesting and competitive races. And it is much safer.
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Assuming Hogan doesn’t reverse course and call for every registered voter to receive a mail-in ballot, we encourage Carroll County voters to fill out and return the application for such a ballot and to vote safely and easily from the privacy of their homes this November.