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State elections board approves voting sites for all but Baltimore; city election director hasn’t submitted plan

Voting is shown June 2, 2020, at Northwood Elementary School in Baltimore during the primary.
Voting is shown June 2, 2020, at Northwood Elementary School in Baltimore during the primary. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

With fewer than two months remaining before the November election, voting center plans are in place for all jurisdictions across the state — except for Maryland’s largest city.

The State Board of Elections approved plans Friday for four more counties, firming up Election Day and early voting locations for most of the state. Nineteen counties were approved previously.

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Baltimore, however, has not yet submitted its plan, to the concern of state board members.

“We’re holding out one of the largest jurisdictions until last,” Vice Chair Patrick “P.J.” Hogan said. “Hopefully, they’re almost done.”

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Baltimore City Elections Director Armstead Jones said after the meeting Friday that he delayed seeking state approval of the city’s plan, which his local board approved Aug. 20, so that additional, larger sites could be added.

Since Aug. 20, Jones said he has finalized an agreement to place a voting center at Morgan State University in Northeast Baltimore, and toured Oriole Park at Camden Yards to scout the stadium as a voting center.

An announcement is forthcoming from the Baltimore Orioles about the use of the ballpark, he said. A spokesperson for the team, Liam Davis, said Friday he couldn’t confirm such a plan.

“We had people asking us to utilize their facilities,” Jones said. “If we have the maximum amount of equipment, we can eliminate lines and keep people from each other.”

The state board did not set a deadline for counties to submit their plans for approval.

Baltimore has specific needs for its voting centers, including proximity to public transportation and traditionally underserved neighborhoods.

But other larger jurisdictions with challenges have submitted their plans. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which have populations more than twice the size of Baltimore, both won state approval last week for their plans. Prince George’s officials expect to return to the board next week to add another voting center.

Other local election directors have moved more hastily to get approval of their plans, citing concerns that delays could stall plans to assign election judges to voting locations and begin training. Jones said he’s not concerned about getting timely approval. Training for election judges in Baltimore has never begun 60 days before an election, he said.

People anxious to work as election judges to help out during the coronavirus pandemic continue to call his office, he said. He urged them to be patient.

“Just because you signed up doesn’t mean we have to tell you right away that we received something,” he said.

With the new voting centers approved by the state board Friday, Maryland has 284 planned so far for Election Day on Nov. 3 and 75 for early voting, which will be offered from Oct. 26 to Nov. 2.

Maryland shifted to the voting center plan instead of offering a full complement of polling places in November, as Republican Gov. Larry Hogan initially requested. In a normal year, the state has about 1,600 polling places which are restricted to the voters assigned to each of them.

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Voting centers can be used by anyone who lives in a county. The use of voting centers also means fewer election judges will be needed overall, satisfying early concerns about a shortage of judges in the midst of the pandemic.

The governor is not related to the state election’s board vice chair, although they have the same last name.

Voters will have the option of voting in person at the voting centers or requesting a ballot by mail that can be mailed back or placed in a ballot drop box. Absentee ballot applications sent to voters across the state arrived this week.

Ballot printing began on schedule this week, state deputy election administrator Nikki Charlson reported Friday.

However, state officials said this week that a new ballot printing contract had yet to be finalized. A new vendor has been selected to work with existing contractor SeaChange, which printed the ballots for June’s primary.

As of Friday, 520,385 Maryland voters had requested mail-in ballots.

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