Don’t be fooled by the April 28 date on your vote-by-mail ballot — Maryland’s primary is June 2.
As ballots arrive in mailboxes beginning this week for the state’s first full-scale election held primarily by mail, election officials are instructing voters to ignore the date at the top of the ballot. That’s because the ballots sent to the state’s more than 4 million eligible registered voters are marked with the original date for the primary.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan postponed the primary in mid-March as it became increasingly clear the coronavirus pandemic was going to make the state’s traditional polling places a health hazard. The COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by the virus has killed nearly 1,300 people in Maryland and infected more than 27,000.
However, the ballots were printed in advance of the governor’s decision, said Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for the State Board of Elections.
“To change the date would have meant that we would have started building the ballots from the very beginning,” she said “That is a deliberate process, and to rush it introduces risk to the election.”
Instead, the Board of Elections included instructions with the ballots that point out the incorrect date. The instructions, which include a list of locations for drop boxes and limited in-person voting centers, were printed more recently.
“The April 28 date does not affect your ballot being counted,” the instructions state. “Your ballot will be counted for the June 2, 2020 Presidential Primary Election if it is postmarked by June 2.”
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An instructional video shared by the board on social media also notes the ballot’s date is out-of-date.
The inconsistency, as well as a snafu on the ballots for a special general election April 28 in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, highlight the difficulty of shifting to a primarily vote-by-mail system on short notice.
Last month, Maryland conducted its first test of widespread vote-by-mail with the 7th District election to fill the remaining term of the late Democratic U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore. The instructions included in the ballot packets mailed to all 480,000 voters in the district erroneously stated two stamps were required to mail completed ballots. In reality, postage was paid.
The error was made when the state’s existing absentee ballot instructions were updated hastily for the purpose of the vote-by-mail election, state officials explained at the time. Then, as now, election officials used social media to try to get the word out about the confusing language.
Maryland’s June 2 primary includes nominations for the state’s eight U.S. House seats, and voters in Baltimore will be asked to choose nominees for mayor, controller, council president and City Council. The primary also includes candidates for U.S. president, although former Vice President Joe Biden is the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee.
Ballots for the primary, mailed last week by Maryland’s out-of-state mail vendor, began arriving this week at homes in much of the state. Ballots for Baltimore and Howard counties are due to be mailed Wednesday, while Baltimore City’s will be mailed Friday, Charlson said.
Voters are urged to return the ballots by mail, but drop boxes and limited in-person voting centers also will be available. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by June 2, while ballots dropped in boxes must be received by 8 p.m. that day.