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Recap: Answers to Maryland election questions from political reporter Emily Opilo’s Reddit AMA

With the first mail-in ballots to be sent to voters this week, Sun reporter Emily Opilo fielded questions about the process and politics of the 2020 general election. Below are highlights from today’s thread on the Baltimore subreddit.

Emily Opilo
Emily Opilo (MONICA CABRERA / THE MORNING CALL)

Previously, election officials said “mid to late September is when ballots should start getting out to voters”. Is that still the time frame? I’m a little worried about this after the primary debacle with ballots getting later than they originally had announced to many of us in the city back in the spring. z3mcs

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State election officials say they are on schedule, and ballots are due to be mailed starting Thursday, Sept. 24. Unlike the June primary, they’ll be privately shipped to Maryland and then enter the mail stream when they get here.

I’m confused, should I sign the ballot or the envelope or both? And do I need to include my middle initial? — rickythurman

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DON’T sign the ballot itself. That will get your ballot thrown out. Sign the oath. If your ballot is being mailed to you, that oath will be on the envelope. If you requested a ballot electronically, you’ll sign the oath provided and include it with your ballot.

You don’t need to worry about your exact signature. Because mail-in voting was instituted so quickly in Maryland, the state doesn’t have the technology in place to match your signature on your ballot to any that it has on file.

Still confused about the election judge situation. They’re now saying they have a surplus, but AFAIK there hasn’t been any talk of expanding the number of polling places, which was a decision they made based on... the shortage of election judges. Is there any chance of adding additional locations between now and Election Day, or is that conversation just over? — charmk1tty

There was a shortage under Gov. Hogan’s initial plan to open all 1,600 polling places across the state. To staff those and early voting sites would have taken about 40,000 people, and Maryland was short by about 14,000 as of mid-July.

The total number of judges needed was reduced when the state moved to a new plan to open voting centers and early voting centers. It takes about 25,000 judges to staff the voting centers. As the State Board of Elections was considering switching to that plan, more people were also signing up. So as of now, all of the local boards of elections are saying that they have enough people to fill those 25,000 spots. Many are still recruiting, though, because they need backups in case people drop out. Backups are needed any year, but even more people are expected to drop out this year due to COVID-19.

Prince George’s and Montgomery County have also been looking for more bilingual election judges, which is a requirement in those counties.

It is still technically possible to open more voting centers, but time is really running out. Local election directors put in their orders for ballots based on the number of voting centers that they have. Those ballots are already being printed. But two weeks ago, we did see another voting center added in Prince George’s County to include FedEx Field.

Are the ballot drop boxes state-run or county/city-run? Can we expect to see more of them installed and can they be trusted? — xunnix

The State Board of Elections and the local boards of elections are working together on the drop boxes. The boxes were ordered by the state and will be installed by state crews at locations selected by the local boards. Staff for the local boards will be responsible for emptying them, and local boards will count the ballots inside. Local boards always do the counting.

The drop boxes were pretty popular during the June primary, so Maryland increased the number of drop boxes that will be available this fall to 270. That’s compared to only 75 during the primary. Right now, local boards are working on security plans to monitor the boxes. In June, Baltimore spent $70,000 to have a private security firm sit and watch every box 24/7. This fall, the estimate is $700,000, so they’re working on some ways to monitor the boxes that might be a bit less costly.

Personally, I used a city drop box in June and felt good about it. They’re emptied multiple times per day, and you don’t have to worry about U.S. Mail.

I requested a mail-in ballot (which I would probably drop in one of the neighborhood drop-boxes), but am considering voting in-person instead. Based on the national climate, should I favor one over the other? If I vote in-person as a city resident, can I choose to do so at Oriole Park? — BmoreInterested

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You can still vote in person, but be warned: you’ll be asked to vote a provisional ballot if you already requested a mail-in ballot. Provisional ballots are still counted, but only after they’ve been further scrutinized by local election boards to make sure you didn’t vote twice. And they’re counted considerably later in the counting process.

If you requested a mail-in ballot, I would recommend using it. If you’re worried about the Postal Service, you can put it in one of the 31 drop boxes are going to be installed in the city soon. BCCC, Morgan State and the art museum already have 24/7 security in place that they’ll be using to monitor their boxes, if that gives you any more confidence.

I get the temptation to vote at Camden Yards. As a city resident, you can vote there. But you will be handed a provisional ballot.

Do you know if there’s any way to see if your vote counted during the primary? Seems like once the Maryland State Board of Elections updated elections.maryland.gov for the general election, there is no way to make sure your vote was tallied during the primary. I saw my primary ballot be in the “received” stage, but neglected to check back to see if it was “accepted” status. I am also wondering if Baltimore City plans for the general to be the same — for all ballots to be in “received” status until the very final tally and certification? — z3mcs

You’re right. The state wiped the primary ballot status information from the voter lookup pages when the general election season began. But that info must still exist somewhere. I would call the State Board of Elections and ask them to check that your ballot was received.

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I expect Baltimore City to use the same process again this fall. In June, they didn’t mark any ballots “received” until after they had been certified. Other counties did it differently because it’s up to each local election director to decide. Certification is due to happen on Nov. 13 this year, assuming all the city ballots are counted on time.

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Is there a political topic in Baltimore or the state of Maryland that you feel is not getting enough attention? — wondering_runner

It’s hard to answer this question without tipping my hat to some things I’m working on, as well as my colleagues.

It feels like no matter how many stories we write this year about the logistics of the election, I’m still running into people who are unsure about how things will work. That’s probably a result of the ever-changing format this year in the midst of the pandemic. So, I’ll keep hammering out those need to know stories and, hopefully, people will have voting on their minds as ballots start to arrive.

We’ve got a couple more interesting election-related stories in the works, too.

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