Your Maryland ballot isn’t in the mail. It hasn’t even been printed yet.

As concern mounts over U.S. Postal Service delivery delays, many Maryland voters have requested mail ballots for the November election. But don't expect that ballot to arrive tomorrow, or even the day after that. In this photo Tuesday in Orange County, Florida, Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles shows a vote-by-mail ballot counting room.

As concerns mount over delays in U.S. Postal Service deliveries, many Maryland residents — 248,257 to be exact — have tried to get ahead by requesting ballots for the November election.

But there’s no point in checking the mailbox yet: State election officials won’t start printing ballots until next month.


According to a schedule that Election Administrator Linda Lamone sent state legislators, the ballots are slated to be finalized Aug. 31. Printing begins Sept. 3, with the mailing of ballots to Maryland addresses set to begin Sept. 24.

That schedule isn’t altogether unusual. State election law calls for absentee ballots to be sent 45 days before an election.


But 2020 is far from a typical election year. The country remains in the grasp of the COVID-19 pandemic, giving many people pause about voting in person, and the last two weeks have been dominated by news of delays in mail deliveries and the removal of sorting machines at post offices across the country.

Ballot certification is actually happening earlier this year — but not because of the coronavirus. For the 2018 election, ballots had to be certified 55 days before the general election or Sept. 12. The requirement is now 64 days in advance, or Aug. 31.

The schedule hasn’t been communicated to voters, argued Morgan Ormond, 32, of Baltimore. Ormond requested her ballot a month ago, and hasn’t received any communication since from the State Board of Elections. She said she was angry and frustrated to hear that her ballot wasn’t on its way, but not surprised.

“Unless someone actively gets on a mailing list, Twitter account, or some such, I don’t think the average person will keep up,” Ormond said. “If I weren’t on Twitter, I wouldn’t know what’s going on, and I know not everyone uses Twitter.”

Christopher Walke of Greenmount West in North Baltimore said he’s noticed some issues with his mail service recently and feared that his ballot, which he requested two weeks ago, was lost in the system.

”It’s a travesty, what’s happening with the post office,” he said. “It’s clearly a necessary service that isn’t getting the support that it needs, and it appears that it’s actively being used to disrupt an election, which is extremely troubling.”

Widespread delays have been reported with Postal Service deliveries as a result of cost-cutting measures and a leadership change at the system’s helm. Last week, it was revealed that mail sorting machines were being removed and decommissioned at postal facilities across the country, including in Baltimore and Linthicum.

Nikki Charlson, Maryland’s deputy election administrator, acknowledged the anxieties voters are feeling about their ballots as a result of the news, but said the Board of Elections cannot move much faster in finalizing ballots. A legal decision impacting which candidates will be named on ballots in Cecil County was not made until Tuesday, and staff members still are reviewing petitions to determine which third-party candidates gathered enough voter signatures to get on the ballots.


Also, presidential tickets are not formally settled until after the national conventions, Charlson said. The Democratic National Convention is this week, while the Republican National Convention is scheduled for next week.

“There’s a lot of big stuff that happens in August that impacts the ballot,” she said. “That’s why no ballots have been made.”

Charlson said a media campaign to educate voters about the vote-by-mail process will begin next week.

Maryland’s typical election format has been turned on its head this year due to the pandemic. In April, the state tried its first largely mail-in election in a race to choose a replacement for the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore. In June, that system was replicated statewide when every voter was mailed a ballot and a limited number of in-person voting centers were offered.

The November election marks a return to a more traditional format, although state election officials recently decided to do away with the state’s usual 1,600 polling places in favor of 360 voting centers. State officials also plan to mail all voters an absentee ballot application at the end of this month.

Many people have made their requests ahead of that application’s arrival, some at the urging of voting rights advocates, state and local leaders and the State Board of Elections itself.


Social media posts from the board repeatedly encourage voters to apply for ballots online, but the posts and the website to which voters are directed do not offer the schedule for mailing ballots.

State officials are expecting about 50% of voters to vote by mail.

State Sen. Cheryl Kagan said the changing election formats have been a challenge for state election officials, but they also have missed opportunities to communicate and educate the public.

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“There’s a greater awareness and greater level of worry this year because there’s such an obsession from this White House with trying to control the election process,” said Kagan, a Democrat from Montgomery County. “I think voters are thinking about it more and earlier.”

Republican President Donald Trump, a vocal critic of voting by mail, said last week that the Postal Service could not handle the millions of vote-by-mail ballots that are expected to be sent this fall because of its inability to access emergency funding he acknowledged he is blocking.

“It’s understandable that voters would be confused and alarmed,” Kagan said.


Maryland was expected to finalize a contract this week for a ballot printing vendor; it is not yet complete, Charlson said. For the primary, ballots were printed by Minnesota-based vendor SeaChange, but election officials issued a request for proposals in July seeking a new vendor after problems were reported in the primary.

Ballots were delivered later than promised to residents in populous areas, including Baltimore City and Montgomery County, an issue state officials blamed on SeaChange. SeaChange’s president argued Maryland officials were at fault for turning over voters lists a week later than expected.

Also, tens of thousands of voters in Prince George’s County received instructions with their ballots in only Spanish, which the state again blamed on SeaChange. And ballots from Baltimore’s City Council District 1 had to be manually copied after a missing header caused scanning problems that produced inaccurate results. State officials again faulted SeaChange.

Charlson said state officials hope to have the new contract in place “soon.”