The end is in sight. Early voting begins Monday in Maryland.
Typically, early voting would mark the official start of the election in the Old Line State. But this year, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, voting for the Nov. 3 election began much earlier. More than 1.6 million Marylanders requested mail-in ballots by the Oct. 13 deadline, and more than 45% have returned them.
Still, about half the voters who opt to participate in this fall’s election are expected to vote in person, either on Election Day or during early voting. Early voting centers — of which there are about 80 across the state — open at 7 a.m. Monday and will continue to operate daily through Nov. 2.
On the ballot are the presidential race, congressional seats and two statewide questions about amending Maryland’s constitution. There are also local ballot questions and, in Baltimore City, races for mayor, City Council and council president.
So, what can you expect this year if you decide to make your trip to the voting center early? We’ve got you covered.
Maryland has allowed early voting since 2010, but this is the first time the state has offered the option during the pandemic. The June primary, rescheduled from April, was held without early voting due to health concerns. The state instead automatically mailed ballots to about 4 million eligible voters.
This fall, voters can expect to see some of their previous early voting sites in use, but many locations have changed due to the pandemic. For instance, empty school buildings are being used in place of senior centers and private facilities that are unavailable because of concerns about COVID-19. You can find early voting locations in your jurisdiction on the State Board of Elections website. Voters can use any early voting site in their home county.
Many of the safety measures implemented during the June primary will be in place, including socially distanced lines, Plexiglas shields, and frequent sanitizing of election equipment.
Health measures were left up to local election directors, so conditions will vary from county to county. Baltimore City voters should prepare for a COVID-19 screening questionnaire before they go inside and may have their temperatures taken. If a voter records a high temperature, he or she can still vote, but they will be escorted to an area segregated from other voters, according to city election director Armstead Jones.
So voters can stand apart from one another in line, some large stadiums will be used as voting centers for the first time. In Prince George’s County, FedEx Field, home of the Washington football team, and the XFINITY Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, will be used. In Baltimore, Oriole Park at Camden Yards will open as a voting center. Voters will queue along the Eutaw Street warehouse and vote inside Dempsey’s Brew Pub and Restaurant.
Tim Young, 31, a downtown Baltimore resident, said it was the Camden Yards choice that cemented his decision to vote in person. Young said he has several family members at risk for the coronavirus.
“I don’t feel comfortable gathering in large crowds indoors, so having the option to vote in an open-air environment like Camden Yards is very reassuring to me,” he said.
Can I still register?
Yes. Starting this year, Maryland has same-day registration. It’s available during both early voting and Election Day.
To register, go to a voting center in the jurisdiction where you live and bring a document that verifies your address, such as a Maryland driver’s license or ID card. A paycheck, bank statement, utility bill or a government document with your name and current address also will work.
Allow some time. This will make the process of voting longer for you.
Will I have to wait in line?
If other states are any indication, probably.
Early voting has been popular across the country in states where polls have already opened. Voters in Georgia, who started voting Oct. 13, waited hours to vote. Nearly 127,000 people cast ballots there on the first day, a record in the state, and lines remained long throughout the week. Long lines also were reported in Florida, which began early voting Oct. 19. Voters crowded polls in North Carolina the week prior, undeterred even as the weather turned rainy.
Long lines can be expected during any presidential election year, but they have also been lengthened by pandemic safety measures. Heeding U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Maryland election directors will try to keep the majority of their lines outdoors, where the transmission of COVID-19 is less likely. Social distancing between each voter will make lines physically longer.
Many Maryland voters reported hour-plus lines during the June primary, particularly in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, prompting state officials to add more voting locations this fall. There will be 80 early voting centers and about 300 Election Day centers. Baltimore City will offer eight early voting sites and 24 Election Day centers. The city had only six for the June 2 primary.
Nikki Charlson, Maryland’s deputy administrator of elections, said the state made a point to establish larger vote centers in each county to help reduce lines in the event of a large turnout.
But Charlson encouraged voters who requested mail-in ballots to stick to that method and return them by mail or place them in an official drop box to keep lines shorter.
“As always, the single largest factor in how long lines and wait times may be is the number of Marylanders who opt to vote in-person rather than via mail or drop box,” Charlson said.
Residents who do vote in person are asked to vote at off-peak times, if possible. Early voting centers are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., the same hours centers are open on Election Day. Typically, early voting centers are busy on the first two days and the last day of the eight-day stretch, and less active on the weekend, although it’s not known if those patterns will hold in this unusual year.
Montgomery County resident Julio Ceron is among the voters planning to take advantage of those quieter times. Ceron, 25, said he’s "old school” about some things and voting is one of them.
“I don’t want to overwhelm the Board of Elections with another mail-in ballot,” he said. “I figure since I go grocery shopping every week, I should be able to cast an in-person vote.”
What if something goes wrong?
Elections never go exactly as planned, and across the country glitches have been reported, including malfunctioning electronic poll books in Georgia that contributed to lengthy lines. Poll books can be used to check in and register voters and to quickly generate information about turnout.
Just this month, the Maryland State Board of Elections updated its contingency plan, which outlines protocols for all sorts of situations including poll book and ballot scanner malfunctions, when to extend voting hours, and dealing with problems with ballot-marking devices used by voters with disabilities.
Maryland officials, including Attorney General Brian Frosh, have also issued reminders that voter intimidation is a crime. Some states have seen increased interest from poll observers after Republican President Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to monitor voting. Locally, election officials report seeing little to no additional interest from potential poll watchers.
Lorri Angelloz, a Baltimore resident in her 40s, said national concerns about voter intimidation won’t deter her from voting early. Angelloz, who plans to vote Monday at Camden Yards, said she didn’t want to take a chance on voting by mail given the national outcry over delays in deliveries by the U.S. Postal Service.
Angelloz said she doesn’t expect to encounter any problems while voting, but she’s ready if she does.
“I’m politically informed. I know my rights as a voter. I know what to do," she said. “I’ve never seen anything at the polls that makes me nervous, but I will crawl through COVID-infected glass shards to vote."