Ballots for the June 2 primary were not mailed to Baltimore voters until at least Thursday, one week later than scheduled and even longer after they were mailed to voters across the rest of the state, according to a news release Sunday from state elections officials.
In the statement, sent by an Annapolis public relations firm, the Maryland Board of Elections said the ballots are now expected to reach city voters no later than May 23.
Concern grew among Baltimore voters throughout the week as ballots across the state began to arrive in mailboxes while the city’s more than 300,000 active registered Democrats and 30,000 Republicans received nothing.
Baltimore was the last municipality on the state’s schedule for ballots to be sent by its mail vendor in Minnesota, a process that began April 27. Municipalities in the 7th Congressional District, which just had a special election in April, were later on the schedule — with ballots to go out between May 6 and May 8. The district includes parts of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County.
The Baltimore Sun contacted the State Board of Elections on Friday and asked if the ballots were mailed as scheduled. Deputy Administrator Nikki Charlson said they were mailed May 8. At that time, Charlson asked Baltimore voters to wait until midweek to request a new ballot, as election administrators could see via U.S. Postal Service tracking that the ballots were en route.
Linda Lamone, the state’s elections administrator said in the news release Sunday that she remains “deeply committed” to delivering the ballots promptly.
“We are grateful to the many Baltimore residents who have contacted us with questions about the vote by mail process and thank them for their patience," she said.
Charlson said Sunday that the Baltimore ballots were mailed by the state’s mail vendor from print houses in Florida and Minnesota. The vendor has also used a location in Ohio to mail Maryland’s primary ballots. Ballots sent from Ohio and Florida have typically arrived more quickly, elections officials said previously.
Post office records show a small percentage of ballots arrived Saturday at Baltimore voters’ addresses, Charlson said Sunday.
Charlson said she could not comment on the change in delivery date.
“Right now, we’re just focusing on getting the ballots out and delivered,” she said.
Maryland’s primary was rescheduled for June 2 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has sickened tens of thousands of Marylanders. The election, which includes several contentious races in Baltimore, including mayor, City Council president and comptroller, is being held primarily by mail with limited in-person voting centers in an effort to minimize the spread of the virus.
Democratic City Council President Brandon Scott, who is among the top contenders challenging Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, had a news conference Friday to express concern over the whereabouts of Baltimore voters’ ballots.
In response to the news Sunday that the ballots were mailed later than previously announced, Scott issued a statement calling for an emergency state Board of Elections meeting by Tuesday to find out what was happening.
“The Maryland State Board of Elections is now reporting that ballots destined for Baltimore City were not mailed to registered voters by May 8, 2020, as previously stated. This report is completely unacceptable,” Scott said.
The June primary is Maryland’s first statewide election being held primarily by mail.
The April 28 special election for the 7th District offered a trial run of voting by mail for its 400,000 voters. Several issues were reported during the special election with voters who did not receive ballots. An audit shortly before the election revealed voters who had requested absentee ballots in advance did not receive ballots when they were mailed en masse to voters. Ballots were mailed April 20 to those voters, but some did not receive them until Election Day.
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Lamone accepted responsibility for the mistake during a legislative hearing last week. The board forgot to send the list of those voters to the mail vendor, she said.
Other April 28 ballots never arrived due to delivery issues with the Postal Service. More than 20,000 ballots in Baltimore City were undeliverable, state officials reported last week. That was nearly 1 in every 10 sent to city voters, a much higher rate than in Baltimore County and Howard County.
Still others were not counted because they were received late or because they were not signed. A total of 5,135 ballots were not counted, 80% because they were received late. Ballots had to be postmarked no later than Election Day.
State lawmakers have asked election officials to contact voters who turned in their ballots after the deadline in an effort to make sure they are able to correct their mistake for the June primary.
The June primary requires to the state to greatly expand its standard vote-by-mail operation. There are about 4 million eligible registered voters in Maryland who are on the state’s mailing list.
The last-minute move to voting by mail also meant that it was too late to correct the date printed on the June ballots, state officials have said. The instructions included in the ballot packets sent to voters ask them to ignore the April 28 date (the primary’s original date) printed at the top. Ballots must be postmarked by June 2 or placed in drop boxes by 8 p.m. on primary day.
For most Baltimore voters, the city’s five drop boxes will be in place before the ballots are in their hands. Elections officials announced last week that the boxes will be installed in the city and become operational beginning Monday.