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Baltimore elections office closes early on the eve of Tuesday’s primary amid protests

Baltimore Election Director Armstead Jones talks about safety measures being taken at voting sites due to COVID-19 and the protests.

The Baltimore Board of Elections closed early on the eve of the state’s primary amid concerns about safety at its office, which is near where protests were centered over the weekend.

The elections office in the 400 block of East Fayette Street closed at 3 p.m. Monday, according to a tweet from the city board. Also, a ballot drop-off box outside was locked shut at 1 p.m..

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Director Armstead Jones said Monday morning he was concerned about his staff going in and out of the office amid protests. The office was already closed to walk-in visits, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but was still allowing voters to make appointments to come in.

“I can’t have my people jeopardized,” Jones said. “We’re right there at City Hall.”

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Monday marked the fourth consecutive day of demonstrations in Baltimore over the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis. Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes while arresting him. Captured on video, the arrest has sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.

In Baltimore, protests have revolved around City Hall, which is catty-corner from the elections office. Monday morning, protesters gathered in front of the building around 8:30 a.m.

Tuesday’s primary includes several important contests in Baltimore. Closely contested Democratic races are underway for mayor, City Council president and comptroller. Due to the pandemic, the ballots were largely distributed by mail.

Voters can mail completed ballots, as long as they are postmarked by Tuesday, but the elections board is also offering the drop boxes at 15 locations in the city. The remaining boxes are open around the clock until 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Baltimore’s ballot drop boxes are being monitored by cameras and watched by either police or security teams. Jones said the box outside the elections office was undisturbed during protests Saturday and Sunday.

He said the box at elections headquarters would reopen Tuesday at 6 a.m. Also, the elections office will be open on primary day.

Jones said his employees don’t have the ability to telecommute, so the office staff won’t work while the headquarters is closed.

With fewer than 24 hours remaining before limited in-person voting centers open Tuesday at 7 a.m., voters should have the materials they need, he said. Baltimore has six polling sites for voters who did not receive ballots by mail or are unable to vote that way.

“If people need something, they should have it by now. I mean, goodness gracious,” he said.

The closure of the office will not affect Baltimore’s vote-counting process, which began in late May. Counting is conducted at a different location, and no counting was scheduled for Monday or Tuesday. The process will resume Wednesday.

Jones said all ballots are being moved out of the downtown office as a precaution.

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