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How to vote in Maryland’s November election

It’s understandable if you’re confused about how to vote in the upcoming November election.

For weeks, there’s been highly politicized debate over the best way to ensure Marylanders have a safe and easy way to cast their ballots during a hugely consequential election taking place amid a global pandemic. Gov. Larry Hogan recently approved a plan to offer 360 in-person voting centers across Maryland, which could be used by any voter in a county, and would be placed primarily at public high schools.

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Still, state leaders are encouraging as many people as possible to stay home on Election Day and instead vote by mail. Below, we’ll answer some of your questions about the process.

Wait, I’m not getting a ballot mailed to me as I did for the primary?

No, despite pressure from voter rights advocates, the state will not be replicating its plan from the June primary and mailing every eligible resident a ballot. Instead, everyone should be soon receiving by mail an application for a ballot. If you want to vote by mail, you can fill out that application and send it back.

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I know I want to vote by mail. Do I have to wait to get that application?

No, you can go ahead and request a mail-in ballot now via the State Board of Elections website. The Baltimore Sun editorial board put together a how-to guide that you can read here.

Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones also released a video taking voters step by step.

You don’t need a reason to vote by mail-in ballot — it’s an option for any registered voter.

What if I’m not registered to vote yet? Can I still vote by mail?

Absolutely.

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You can register online through the Board of Elections. And while you register, you can also request a vote-by-mail ballot if you don’t want to cast an in-person ballot.

Don’t want to do it online? You can also print out an application and mail it to your designated local elections board. It can also be dropped off in-person. If you can’t print it out, other local boards and state offices have applications.

The deadline to register online for Election Day is Oct. 13. After that deadline, you’ll have to go in person to an early-voting center or do it Election Day.

Can I keep my options open by requesting a ballot in the mail, but still ultimately decide to vote in-person on Nov. 3?

It’s complicated.

As Maryland’s election is structured, any voter who requests an absentee ballot can no longer vote on a traditional ballot — those are the ones scanned into the machines on Election Day. Instead, those voters will be asked to fill out a provisional ballot. Provisional votes can count, but they are set aside on Election Day. After scrutiny to make sure the voters who cast them are eligible, they are tabulated, although that happens late in the canvassing (starting Nov. 12 this year for the Nov. 3 election).

When do I have to request my ballot by?

Your request must be received (not just mailed) by Tuesday, Oct. 20.

How do I send my ballot?

There are two options.

The first is to mail it. The ballot mailed to you will include prepaid postage to return it.

The second is to place it in a ballot drop box.

State election officials said there will be about 270 boxes around the state. An initial group of 127 drop boxes will be installed at various locations across the state Sept. 28 and the rest will be put in place as they arrive from the vendor, said Nikki Charlson, the state’s deputy administrator of elections.

How will I know if my request for a ballot was received? And then later, whether it was counted?

You can use the state elections board’s voter look-up website.

Will there be early voting this year?

Yes, early voting will begin Oct. 26 and continue until Election Day. There will be about 80 early voting sites statewide, and they will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The State Board of Elections is still deciding on locations for the early voting centers.

Before the pandemic, the state had scheduled early voting for eight days, from Oct. 22 through Oct. 29, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

I’ve been hearing a lot of things about post offices and issues with mail. What’s happening?

In late July, the Postal Service warned 46 states, including Maryland, that their deadlines for requesting absentee ballots might not provide “sufficient time” for ballots to be mailed to voters and returned to the elections office with the required Election Day postmark.

Since then, cost-cutting moves by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have led to widespread complaints about mail service. After the backlash, DeJoy said the Postal Service is committed to delivering ballots on time and is suspending some cost-cutting initiatives until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of any impact” on voting.

But Maryland joined a number of states last week in a suit alleging that the Postal Service changes — by hampering mail delivery so close to the election — unconstitutionally interfered with citizens’ right to vote.

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