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Your ballot application will arrive any day now, Maryland. Then what?

Maryland’s much-awaited mail-in ballot applications have begun to arrive in voters' mailboxes across the state. Before you fill yours out, there are some things you should know to help you through the process.
Maryland’s much-awaited mail-in ballot applications have begun to arrive in voters' mailboxes across the state. Before you fill yours out, there are some things you should know to help you through the process. (Handout / Baltimore Sun)

Maryland’s much-awaited mail-in ballot applications have begun to arrive in voters’ mailboxes across the state, but before you fill yours out, there are some things you should know to help you through the process.

Voters have the choice of voting in person this fall, casting a ballot via the mail, or placing it in one of the drop boxes that will be available across the state. That’s different from Maryland’s primary in June, when all voters were mailed ballots and the majority returned their completed forms by mail.

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The applications, each bearing a bipartisan purple stripe on the left side of the envelope, started going out Aug. 24 by first-class mail to the state’s 4 million voters, and people began reporting receiving them as early as Friday.

Below are some issues and concerns raised by readers that can help guide you through the steps if you choose to vote by mail.

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If you go to the link listed on the ballot application letter, you might think you’re re-registering to vote.

It’s not a mistake. Maryland traditionally has used the same system to record online voter registration and requests for mail-in ballots. If you use that link, you’ll be led through an 11-step process which includes reconfirming your voter information and eventually applying for a vote-by-mail ballot.

After hearing from voters confused by the application instructions, the State Board of Elections developed a more streamlined online process. You can find that link here or go to https://voterservices.elections.maryland.gov and click on “REQUEST A BALLOT.”

However, the old link appears on cover letters with the applications. The mailing was printed before the new portal was available.

The deadline to apply is Oct. 20.

The form has a 30-minute time limit to complete to prevent fraud. Election officials aren’t kidding about this: You will be logged out if you don’t complete it in that amount of time. Have any materials you’ll need, such as a driver’s license, ready.

You might get a new voter registration card. Ignore what it says about a polling place.

If you update your voter information when you complete the application process, even slightly, you will likely be mailed a new voter registration card. The cards are automatically sent to voters.

Beware, however, the polling place listed on your new card. Maryland isn’t offering the usual 1,600 precinct voting sites this fall. Instead, the State Board of Elections opted last month to offer about 360 voting centers on Election Day to cope with a shortage in election judges.

Voting centers can be used by any voter in a county, while polling places are only available to voters assigned to them.

While some polling place locations may be the same as the new voting centers, many will not. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many local directors to scrap plans to use traditional sites like senior centers and churches. Election officials also have been trying to use larger spaces to make social distancing possible.

The final list of voting centers is not available because the State Board of Elections has not yet approved all the sites. State officials say they will include a list with ballots mailed to the voters who requested them.

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Don’t try to vote at a voting center outside your home jurisdiction. You’ll be asked to vote a provisional ballot, and your votes for local races, such as mayor, may be thrown out.

The application you received in the mail also mentions polling places. That’s out of date.

The ballot applications mailed to voters across the state were finalized before state officials made the decision to switch from polling places to voting centers. If you vote in person this fall, you’ll do it at a voting center.

Early voting also will be offered beginning Oct. 26 and continuing through Nov. 2, the eve of the election. Early voting centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and are limited to voters of the county where they’re located.

You can check whether your ballot request has been received.

Maryland offers a tool to look up your voter information and see if your ballot request has been processed. You’ll need your name, date of birth and ZIP code.

Click on the “status of my mailed-in or provisional ballots” tab on the state elections board website. If the status says “received,” your request has been processed.

Give it some time, though, after making your request for a ballot. Local election boards are processing large volumes of requests and your status won’t update until someone has entered your request in the system.

You may have received a ballot application request even if you already submitted one online.

That’s because an application for a ballot had to be processed by Aug. 6 for a voter to be removed from the list of people automatically mailed applications.

Some local election boards already have substantial backlogs of requests that have not been processed.

Do not immediately submit a second request for a ballot. Check the status of your mail-in ballot first.

If you already requested a ballot, it’s not lost in the mail.

The final language and candidates included on the November ballots were not due to be finalized until this week.

Ballot printing can begin Thursday and state election officials expect to mail ballots via first-class mail to those who requested them by the end of September.

You don’t have to apply online.

While the instructions with your ballot application strongly encourage you to apply online, you can instead mail back a completed application form.

You’ll need to provide your birth date, address, phone number and email address and choose your method of ballot delivery: via mail, email or fax. You also can arrange with your local election board to pick up a ballot in person.

Remember to sign your application, and use the postage paid envelope to return it via the mail.

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