Less than three months out from November’s presidential election and the state of Maryland still does not know exactly how it is going to conduct voting this year.
Officials can’t take too much longer to get it figured out either. There will already be plenty of confusion come November and each day that passes is one less day to get clear messaging to the public about how they can cast their ballot.
On Friday, the Maryland Board of Elections unanimously approved a proposal that would open 360 voting centers in the state, mainly at each county’s public high schools. Harford would have 10 high schools serve as voting centers, along with its usual four early voting centers.
Unlike traditional polling places, where only voters from that precinct can cast ballots, a voter from anywhere in the county would be able to go to one of the centers and vote. Board members were unsure whether Gov. Larry Hogan would go it, however, the governor on Monday granted authority to the board to create the voting centers.
The board is meeting again Wednesday to continue discussion of November’s election, according to its agenda.
Had that governor not given the board the authority to create voting centers, it likely would’ve considered consolidation plans from several local Board of Elections, like Harford. Under that proposal, Harford would contract from 63 polling places to 34.
Neither situation is ideal, but seemingly a necessity given the sheer number of election judges who have said they won’t participate in this year’s election due to fears of the coronavirus. A majority of election judges are over 60 years old, putting them at a greater risk of contracting the respiratory virus. In Harford, about 400 judges have opted out. County officials say it takes more than 800 to run a typical election.
But this election will be anything but typical.
For one, regardless of whatever plans are finalized for in-person voting, about half of the participants in this year’s election will likely do so by mail. That comes with its own set of complications.
While voter fraud via mail in ballots isn’t fraught as some would have you believe, what will pose a problem is counting all of the ballots sent by mail. Look no further than New York City’s primary for evidence of that. The system was overwhelmed.
That’s to say nothing, of course, for the present state of the U.S. Postal Service, where in some parts of Maryland, they’re struggling just to deliver the mail on a daily basis.
Moreover, Hogan has insisted that ballots not be mailed directly to voters, rather an application for a mail-in ballot be sent, which much be returned requesting the actual mail-in ballot. Those applications, by the way, have not yet been sent to voters. In his letter to the state board Monday, Hogan re-emphasized the the need to “expeditiously” mail those applications. (If you don’t want to wait, you can apply for a mail-in ballot online by going to the Maryland Board of Elections website.)
Regarding in-person voting, while the governor still seems skeptical, it’s good that he granted the state board authority to move forward with its voting center proposal. While it is a significant reduction in overall polling places, the larger venues would allow for social distancing and other safety measures while still accommodating a number of voters at one time on election day. Fewer places also means election judges will be stretched less thin.
It could also cut down on election day confusion versus consolidating polling places, since citizens could cast their ballot at any of the voting centers in their county. It could come as blanket messaging from the local boards of elections, rather than having to message voters specifically of their new polling place.
To the governor’s point though, we need to get moving. The state board needs to finalize plans Wednesday, get absentee applications in the mail as soon as possible, and allow local boars to start messaging how to vote in this year’s election. The clock is ticking.