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Baltimore-area voters report problems getting ballots in Maryland’s first ever election by mail

Some voters across Maryland’s 7th Congressional District say their ballots for Tuesday’s special election never came in the mail as expected, leaving them scrambling to figure out how they can have their say on who will replace the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.

Democrat Kweisi Mfume and Republican Kimberly Klacik are running for the seat held by Cummings, who died in October. The district includes parts of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County.

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Voters were to receive ballots earlier this month for the state’s first-ever mail-in election. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the election held primarily by mail to protect voters and election officials during the coronavirus outbreak. Limited in-person voting will be available.

Some voters have not received ballots, however.

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Democratic Del. Nick Mosby of Baltimore wrote the state elections board Thursday, saying he’d been fielding questions from voters without mail ballots.

He asked the board to investigate what he said appeared to be a glitch involving voters who previously requested an absentee ballot. Mosby wrote that it appeared some of them were not included in the rolls used by the elections board’s vendor to send the mail-in ballots.

Once the issue was identified, he said, the voters were placed in a queue to receive a ballot by mail, but some still were waiting to receive one.

Linda Lamone, the election board administrator, said officials worked quickly to address the issue. That included conducting a continuous audit of voter records and sending files to the mailing vendor to be printed and mailed. She said the vendor promptly mailed those ballots as soon as the problem was identified.

Nikki Charlson, the board’s deputy administrator, said the vendor sent its last batch of ballots Monday. Ballots that the vendor, based in Minnesota, sent this month typically have taken five days to reach voters.

The problem Mosby described was similar to what Marilyn Goldstein reported happening to her parents, who live in Baltimore. Goldstein requested an absentee ballot for each of them in February, but as of this week, they had not arrived. Goldstein called city elections officials and was told the ballots were mailed April 17 or April 18. As of Thursday, they had not arrived.

Goldstein has begun making arrangements to get the ballots delivered online. Voting in person is not an option, she said. Both of her parents are in their 80s, and she’s not willing to expose them to the coronavirus.

“I have to make sure my dad’s printer is working,” she said. “Everything is going to depend on the printer.”

The issue for voters who had requested absentee ballots in the past wasn’t the only problem Mosby described. He said some people reported one voter in a household receiving a ballot while others there did not.

That happened to Kaylin Adipietro of Baltimore. She said her husband received his ballot at their Belvedere address in North Baltimore earlier this month, after the majority were mailed to voters. Hers never arrived. Last week, she asked online for a new ballot to be mailed to her, but that hasn’t come. She called Thursday, this time requesting a ballot be emailed to her.

She said city election officials first sent her a PDF that failed to download; then an election official directly emailed her a copy of the PDF. Still, that meant she had to print the ballot, so she had to arrange to print the ballot at a neighbor’s home.

“How many people in this city don’t know that they were supposed to receive a ballot and wouldn’t know when to call when they haven’t?” Adipietro said. “It’s not even the presidential election yet. It’s just to fill Elijah Cummings’ seat for the rest of his term. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important.”

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It also happened to Del. Courtney Watson, a Howard County Democrat. She said she received her ballot, but the other two people in her home — her husband and her son — did not. Watson wrote a Facebook post to see if anyone else had trouble, and she said voters in at least 30 Howard households said the same thing had happened to their families.

The move to voting by mail required Maryland to drastically expand its existing absentee ballot system. During the 2016 presidential election for example, Maryland mailed out only 225,653 absentee ballots. That’s a fraction of the 500,000 it sent for the race Tuesday in a single congressional district and the more than 4 million it will mail for a statewide June 2 primary.

Of those ballots sent in 2016, voters returned about 177,000 completed ballots.

As of Thursday, 7th District voters had mailed in 77,425 completed ballots. The remaining voters must have their ballots postmarked by Tuesday or leave them in a drop box by 8 p.m. that day.

As in every election, Lamone said, the board works with the U.S. Postal Service to track down the status of missing ballots and verify they’ve been mailed and reached voters.

Once there was no longer time for ballots to arrive by mail, election officials began sending voters electronic versions. State officials said they didn’t know how many voters hadn’t gotten their ballots by mail.

Watson said given the unprecedented nature of the election and necessary tight turnaround during the pandemic, glitches are to be expected. She said she can find no indication the problems rise to a level that would invalidate the election.

But she wants the election board to use the lessons its learning to strengthen plans for the June primary, much of which also will be handled by mail. The fail-safe in both elections is the option for people to vote in person at the limited sites that will be open, she said.

For now, Watson said, her husband and son are waiting for ballots to be re-mailed to them.

“Let’s figure out what we can do to get people their ballots in June, and if there are any problems, let’s resolve them,” Watson said.

Charlson said there is still time to get a ballot, and she encouraged voters to contact their local election boards before Election Day.

“First, check to make sure they’re in the 7th Congressional District, which you can do on our website,” she said. “Then, call the local board of elections. There’s a way to figure out how to get them a ballot.”

Voters who did receive ballots in the mail can return them using the envelopes included in the ballot packet. The postage on those envelopes is paid. Ballots also can be dropped off in boxes outside local elections offices in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County. Drop boxes also will be offered outside each voting center on Election Day.

In Baltimore, Leonor Morrow, 23, is considering her options for the special election day. Morrow began to grow worried about the whereabouts of her ballot after her fiance received his. She first tried this week to check the status of the ballot online.

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“It’s not very helpful since it doesn’t have any other info, except that it was sent,” Morrow said.

Morrow contacted the city’s elections office Thursday to request a new one. Officials told her the deadline to mail one had passed, but offered to send her one electronically. However, Morrow doesn’t have a printer.

Asked if she would be willing to vote in person, Morrow, who lives in Mount Vernon in central Baltimore, said she didn’t realize it was an option.

“I guess I’ll think about it,” Morrow said. “I don’t think this election is as contentious as the upcoming primaries, so hopefully I’ll get that ballot on time.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

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