As Gov. Larry Hogan digs in his heels on his potentially deadly demand for an in-person election this fall, despite a statewide shortage of judges, and the Maryland Board of Elections drags its feet in pushing for safer polling amid the pandemic, it seems like now is a good time to take the matter into your own hands and request a mail-in ballot. It’s true that the state elections’ board might automatically send you an application, as it’s been ordered to do, or it might find a way to skip that step and send the actual ballot, as we’ve urged. But given the many mix-ups of the primary and the delays we’ve seen already as officials prepare for the general, waiting for the board to act in your best interests seems like a bridge too far.
Of course, the process to request the mail-in ballot is overly complex and clearly was dreamed up by a bureaucrat. So we’re taking a page from the book of Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, who released a how-to video, and offering our own tutorial in our preferred medium: the written word. The sooner you apply for a mail-in ballot, the more likely you are to actually receive one and be able to use it, removing the risk of in-person voting as COVID-19 continues its onslaught on America.
Here’s how to do it online, the best method as most local boards are closed to the public because of the novel coronavirus.
Step No. 1
The journey starts here: https://elections.maryland.gov at the State Board of Elections’ website. If you’re on a computer, find the heading “Quick Links” on the left-hand side of the page and click on “Mail-in Voting,” immediately underneath. From a mobile device, scroll down to the Quick Links drop down menu, and click on it, then click Mail-in Voting.
This takes you to a question-and-answer page of information and instructions. We’ll sum up the pertinent details to save you the trouble of clicking through each. (If you can’t help yourself, though, disregard directions in Question Nos. 2, 3 and 5 claiming you can fill out a ballot application in person at a local elections board or pick up a mail-in ballot there or designate someone to do it for you. Those options largely don’t exist in a pandemic; most boards are closed to the public because of COVID-19, though some, like Anne Arundel County’s, are scheduling appointments).
If you’re registered to vote, you’re eligible to cast your ballot by mail, no special reason needed (though avoiding potential exposure to a life-threatening illness is a pretty good one).
So, are you registered to vote?
Yes: Great! Move ahead to Step No. 2.
No: Well, let’s get you registered. You can also move ahead to Step No. 2, but make sure you do it by Oct. 13, the advance voter registration deadline for the 2020 general election. If you miss this window and no application was automatically sent to you, you’ll have to do same-day registration in person at an early voting center or on Election Day.
Step No. 2
It turns out it doesn’t matter if you’re registered to vote when applying for a mail-in ballot, as long as you have a Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration-issued ID or driver’s license, because the process to register online and the process to apply for a mail-in ballot online are the same.
So, do you have an MVA issued ID?
Yes: Great! Even though it raises troubling questions about requiring identification in order to exercise your right to vote, it means you can both register to vote online and complete a ballot request online. Move on to Step 2a.
No: OK, no worries.
If you’re already registered to vote, you can print a ballot application form and mail, fax or email it in. It’s a short, hassle-free form. But it requires a printer and possibly postage and the added step of being processed in person once it arrives at the elections’ board. Links to the mail-in ballot application, in Spanish and English, are on the Mail-in Voting webpage, under Question No 2: “How do I request a mail-in ballot?” Fill it out, return it, and you’re done. Nothing left to do but wait for the ballot to show up.
Pro tip: This is the simplest way for anyone to request a ballot, with or without ID. It avoids having to answer a lot of extra questions through the online form. You may want to take this route if you can, and call it a day.
If you don’t have ID and aren’t registered to vote, you’ll have to find a way to print a voter registration form, fill it out and mail it in, postmarked by Oct. 13th (this one can’t be faxed or emailed because an original signature is required) in order to then go through the mail-in voting process. To get to the printable registration form, click on the first question on the Mail-in Voting page (“Who may vote by mail-in ballot?”) and select “how to register to vote.” This takes you to a page where you can find links to the English and Spanish forms. Once you’re registered, come back and go through the process outlined in the paragraph above.
Step No. 2a
All you MVA ID holders are now ready to fill out an online application for a mail-in ballot and registration. Let’s get started. From the Mail-in Voting page, click on “How do I request a mail-in ballot?” and choose the first link, which leads to the online process.
Welcome to the Voter Registration and Mail-in Ballot Request page. As long as you’re eligible to vote in Maryland (U.S. citizen, state resident, of age or about to be, not currently imprisoned and so on) and here on your own behalf, you can skip reading this page, and click on “next.” You’re welcome.
Click “next” again after reading the privacy information, then select what type of voter you are on the following page. For most of you, that will be the first option: A U.S. citizen living inside the U.S. Click “next.” Get your ID ready and click “next” again. Then get comfortable: a dozen more steps to go.
Fill out each one (name, birth date, Social Security number; MVA information; residential address; mailing address; political party; phone and email; registration information (here’s where you say you want to register if that’s the case); details on whether you need poll support or want to be a judge (no and no; we’re trying to avoid the in-person thing, remember?); mail-in ballot request and how you’d like to receive it (mail, fax or email); oath and signature; review; submit.
Boom. That’s it. If you weren’t registered before, you are now, and you have a ballot on the way regardless. And it only cost a half-hour of your life — whereas in-person voting could cost your actual life or the life of someone you love, if you contract COVID-19.
Some important information whether you wait for your application to arrive in the mail or proactively seek it out: The application must be received by the elections boards by Oct. 27 if you want a ballot mailed or faxed to your home or Oct. 30 if you’re willing to download a ballot after your application is processed.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels, writer Peter Jensen and summer intern Anjali DasSarma — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.