Vote counting for the November election got underway Monday in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County, the start in Central Maryland of what could be a lengthy process thanks to more than a million mail-in ballots expected to be cast across the state.
The results will remain embargoed until Election Night, when all in-person polls have closed, but Maryland is beginning its count early this year to accommodate the expected deluge of mail-in ballots. Election officials believe half of all voters participating in the November election may opt out of voting in person.
Armstead Jones, election director for Baltimore, said Monday that his office has received about 4,000 completed ballots. City canvassers were sworn in around 10 a.m. and began their work. Counting will continue each day, as needed, he said.
Anne Arundel, which has received more than 14,000 ballots so far, also began counting Monday. Harford County is due to start Tuesday, Baltimore and Howard counties are expected to start Oct. 12 and Carroll County officials expect to begin Oct. 17.
More than 1.3 million mail-in ballots already have been requested across the state and the window to make such a request remains open. Voters have until Oct. 20 to submit an application form or request a ballot online.
The Nov. 3 election, which includes the high-profile presidential race, as well as contests locally for Congressional seats and mayor of Baltimore, will have a hybrid format this year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Maryland has consolidated its usual 1,600 in-person polling places to about 300 voting centers across the state. Another 80 early voting centers will be offered starting Oct. 26 and continuing through Nov. 2.
Mail-in ballots must be requested, and applications were mailed to all registered voters in August. Mail-in ballots were first sent to voters who requested them in late September, and that process will continue as more applications come in. The state has opened a central data center to assist with processing the requests.
Ballot counting, known as canvassing, was allowed to begin as early as last Thursday under an emergency regulation passed by the State Board of Elections in hopes of giving local election boards enough time to count the large number of expected mail-in ballots. But many local jurisdictions won’t start the process until this week or later as they finish calibrating voting equipment for in-person polling places and wait for more ballots to arrive.
Mail-in ballots can be returned via mail or placed in drop boxes that began to be installed last week across the state. Additional ballot drop boxes will be installed later in October as they arrive from the manufacturer.
Jones encouraged residents to get their ballot application requests in as soon as possible.
Like ballots, ballot applications can be placed in drop boxes — as long as you use a box in your home jurisdiction.
Ballot counting could be a lengthy process this year, depending on how early voters return their mail-in ballots. Once early voting begins, some election staff will be pulled off canvassing to work at voting centers. Mail-in ballots will not be counted on Election Day, with counting resuming later that week.
Votes are scheduled to be certified by Nov. 13, although there is no penalty for missing that deadline.
Members of the Electoral College are due to convene Dec. 14 to cast ballots for president and vice president in their respective states. Those ballots must be received by the president of the U.S. Senate by Dec. 23.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Olivia Sanchez contributed to this article.