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The instructions on your Maryland special general election ballot are wrong. You don’t need stamps.

As Maryland undertakes its first election held primarily via mail, an early problem emerged this week as ballots landed in voters’ mailboxes: some of the instructions are wrong. A 7th Congressional District ballot for the special general election is shown.
As Maryland undertakes its first election held primarily via mail, an early problem emerged this week as ballots landed in voters’ mailboxes: some of the instructions are wrong. A 7th Congressional District ballot for the special general election is shown. (McKenna Oxenden)

As Maryland undertakes its first election held primarily via mail, an early problem emerged this week as ballots landed in voters’ mailboxes: some of the instructions are wrong.

The one-page, double-sided instruction sheet included with the nearly 500,000 ballots mailed by Maryland officials last week contains conflicting messages about whether postage is required. The front of the instruction page calls for voters to put two stamps on the envelope included with their ballot. The back says that postage is prepaid, but gives voters the option of using stamps to defer the cost to local election boards.

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The reality is all postage is prepaid. Now, state election officials are scrambling to get the message out.

“Voters in the 7th Congressional District: You DO NOT need to put stamps on your return envelope before you mail your ballot," the State Board of Elections tweeted Wednesday. "The postage on your envelope is already paid!”

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The board tweeted a similar message Tuesday. Election officials in Baltimore City, part of which is included in the 7th District, retweeted the message.

7th Congressional District ballot instructions
7th Congressional District ballot instructions (McKenna Oxenden)
7th Congressional District ballot instructions
7th Congressional District ballot instructions (McKenna Oxenden)

The special general election being held April 28 is the first real test of a widespread vote-by-mail system in Maryland.

In response to the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 413 Marylanders and sickened more than 10,000, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the delay of the state’s presidential primary, originally scheduled for April, until June 2.

However, the special general election to choose a replacement for the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, is proceeding on April 28 and is being conducted almost entirely by mail.

The ballots mailed to eligible voters in the district, which also includes parts of Baltimore County and Howard County, began arriving Monday. Envelopes with prepaid postage were included — a first for the state, which previously required voters to use stamps to return absentee ballots.

The instructions included with the new ballots were modeled after the ones the state has delivered with absentee ballots in the past, explained Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator of the State Board of Elections. The back of the instruction page was updated to include the new information about prepaid postage, but the reference on the front page to voters needing stamps was missed, she said.

The State Board of Election has used Twitter and Facebook to try to get the correct message out, as well as putting the information on its website.

The execution of the April election is important not just to fill the 7th District seat, which has been vacant since October, but because it is a test for the June 2 primary, which the state is also attempting to conduct largely by mail.

In-person voting centers will be offered on a limited basis for both elections for voters who cannot vote by mail or do not receive their ballots, but the majority of the state’s voters will be asked to fill out and return the ballots mailed to them.

The scope of both elections requires Maryland to vastly expand its vote-by-mail operation. During the 2016 presidential election, Maryland mailed out 225,653 absentee ballots. About 177,000 of those ballots were returned for counting. The state will have to mail ballots to nearly 4 million eligible voters for the June election.

Charlson said the state board already has corrected the front page of the instructions that will be mailed to voters for the June primary. The wording on the back page will remain the same.

Maryland’s June 2 primary includes nominations for the state’s eight U.S. House seats. In Baltimore, citizens will nominate candidates for mayor, City Council president, Council seats and city comptroller. The primary is also for U.S. president, although with the withdrawal last week of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders from the Democratic race, former Vice President Joe Biden is the party’s presumptive nominee.

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The April 28 election pits Democratic nominee Kweisi Mfume against Republican nominee Kimberly Klacik. The winner will fill the remainder of Cummings’ term, which expires early next year. An election to choose who will fill the seat beginning in 2021 will be held later this year.

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