With early voting beginning Monday and more than 850,000 Marylanders already casting their votes by mail as of Friday, many voters have made or are making decisions on how to vote amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
A Goucher College Poll released this month reported that 48% of likely Maryland voters said they expected to vote using a mail-in ballot, whether opting to submit it via mail or put it in a ballot drop box. Fifty-one percent said they planned to vote in-person on Nov. 3 or during the early voting period, which runs from Monday to Nov. 2.
The Baltimore Sun got answers from seven prominent Marylanders about their choices related to the voting process.
Where and when did or will you vote?
John Waters, award-winning Baltimore writer, director and artist: I got sent a ballot and dropped it off at the Baltimore Museum [of Art] box maybe a week ago or more. It took awhile for it come. As soon as you could apply for it I did. I knew I was not changing my mind. So I put it in the box the day after I got it.
Larry Hogan, Maryland governor, a Republican: I put my ballot in the mail in mid-October.
Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead, associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland: I voted two weeks ago. I made the decision earlier this year to vote by mail and as soon as I could, I requested a mail-in ballot. The only confusing part was that the state first mailed me a paper request for a mail-in ballot which made it a three-step process. I dropped my ballot off at the drop box on the campus of Morgan State University. Within a week, I received an email stating that my ballot had been received. I then kept tracking my ballot online until then website stated that my ballot had been accepted.
Chris Van Hollen, Maryland U.S. Senator, a Democrat: It’s crucial that every American make a plan to vote. My plan is to early vote next week at my local polling location.
Carim Khouzami, CEO of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.: I will be voting this week.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Baltimore’s Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and a former Democratic candidate for Maryland governor: Mail-in ballot as soon as I received it, with a very special thank you to the women and men of the Postal Service who have reminded us just how essential they are.
Jay A. Perman, chancellor of the University System of Maryland: I voted by mail.
If you voted or plan to vote, what method (in-person, early voting or on election day/mail-in/dropbox, etc.) did you choose or are you choosing to vote in the election this year, and why?
Waters: I just wanted to have as much lead time as possible. I’m very angry about [the Trump administration’s] screwing up the post office. I like the post office very much, but I just don’t trust anything. I wanted to get it as early as I could. I already got a thing saying they got it.
Hogan: Voting by mail is a safe and efficient way to vote, and take part in the democratic process.
Whitehead: I voted early using the drop box. Growing up, my father used to take me with him on Election Day to make sure I understood why it was important to participate. Voting, he would say, was one of the few weapons we have that can bring about change in this country. I would be wise, he would add, to wield my weapon responsibly. I have voted in every election since I turned 18. The 2020 election is the most important election in my lifetime because what is on the ballot is the heart, soul, and future of our nation.
Van Hollen: I’m voting early, in person this year. I encourage every American to make a plan to vote that best suits their schedule.
Khouzami: I am planning to vote via mail-in ballot and will drop my ballot in a drop box. Given the pandemic this year, this is a very safe option and, it’s also pretty convenient for me.
Vignarajah: I chose to vote by mail this year, partly out of convenience, and partly out of caution. It’s safe to vote in-person, but between my recovery from breast cancer and caring for two octogenarian parents, we have been extremely careful with our decisions these days. There is unprecedented enthusiasm around this election, and with potential record turnout, I also wanted to do my part to reduce any potential crowding at the polling place.
Perman: I mailed by ballot.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, do you think it is safe to vote in-person in Maryland?
Waters: Yes I do. But even if it wasn’t I’d vote.
Hogan: Yes, though it is important to remember that low risk does not mean no risk. All of our vote centers must follow all federal and state health guidelines, and voters need to practice the same basic mitigation strategies of masking and social distancing that have been so successful for our state. We are also strongly encouraging voters to vote at off-peak times, such as mid-morning or the early afternoon, to avoid what are expected to be large crowds and potentially very long lines.
Whitehead: With the current nationwide rise in Covid-19 cases along with the arrival of the flu season, I do not think that it is safe to vote in person. Even though Maryland has worked hard to make in-person voting safe, I am concerned about the long lines and the potential time that people will be in close contact with one another. I know that people can no longer request a mail-in ballot so the only option that remains is to vote in-person. This is the most important election of our lifetime so people must vote and be as careful as possible.
Van Hollen: Local Boards of Election are working to ensure voting in-person is safe, but everyone needs to do their part too. If you’re voting in person, you should follow all the CDC recommended guidelines – including social distancing and wearing a mask.
Khouzami: Yes, absolutely. At BGE, we are constantly stressing to our employees to follow all safety protocols including wearing masks or face coverings, washing your hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds and maintaining at least six feet of social distancing when possible. We also encourage our employees to limit contact with large groups whenever possible. Additionally, BGE was one of several companies participating in the state’s Mask on Maryland campaign which featured some of our employees working safely while wearing masks and face coverings. As long as people follow these basic steps, get tested if they have symptoms and follow the recommended protocols for quarantining if necessary, I believe it is safe to vote in Maryland.
Vignarajah: Absolutely. A lot of thought and respect for the advice of public health officials has been put into this process. Luckily, our state does have robust voting options in place to spread the election out and keep Marylanders safe — whether it’s voting by mail or by drop-box, voting early from Oct. 26-Nov. 2, or voting in person on Nov 3.
I’m excited by how much of the electorate appreciates how pivotal this election will be — people clearly know the stakes couldn’t be higher. This election isn’t just about how we overcome COVID-19, it’s about the things we care most about: health care, the economy, the environment, systemic racism, American leadership and so much more. No one can afford not to vote with so much on the line.
Perman: It’s safe to vote in person if people are willing to adhere to simple public health measures. All of us.
If you chose not to vote in person this year, will you vote in person again in the future?
Waters: A lot of times, I get the absentee ballot because I’m never sure if I’m going to be here or not. I want to make sure that I vote. I prefer to vote in person, but they’ve taken away my favorite voting place that used to be right up the street. Yes, I would vote in person, it’s just that I’m never sure that I’m going to be in town on that day, so I want to be sure I’ll be able to vote even if I get called out of town for work, which I do a lot.
Hogan: I hope so.
Whitehead: I enjoy voting in person. I usually have my father on the phone, and we are talking about the candidates and arguing our positions. It is a rite of passage, and I miss doing it. Both of my sons voted for the first time this year, and I had looked forward to having the entire family go to the polls together. I hope that we will be able to do that one day.
Van Hollen: N/A
Khouzami: It’s possible that I will vote in person in the future; however, the mail-in/drop-off ballot is an extremely easy and convenient way to vote, so I would consider using this option if available in the future. I like this option because it allows me to use my time more efficiently, and I have confidence in the system that my voice will be heard by using this method to vote. Bottom line, I don’t have any concerns about voting in person, but I may choose to vote by mail going forward because it’s so convenient.
Vignarajah: I most certainly will. I love going into the voting booth and being part of the camaraderie of exercising our civic duty. There is something special about participating in the democratic process and physically seeing neighbors in your community whose interests you’re also voting for. It’s especially important to me as an immigrant and naturalized citizen — I wasn’t born with the right to vote, and I see too many people who have been disenfranchised or ignored. Casting our ballots is a way to give voice to the voiceless.
Perman: I look forward to voting in person during the next election.
What do you think the process of voting will look like in 2022?
Maryland Policy & Politics
Waters: It depends who wins. I don’t understand why a country that can land on Mars can’t figure out how to vote properly. Maybe [Vice President Joe] Biden can do that. If Trump wins, there will be a civil war [laughs]. Who knows what will happen if he wins. But voting will always be something that he distrusts unless he wins.
Hogan: Even with us encouraging voters to vote by mail, most Marylanders still plan to vote in person this year, so it may not look too different from what it has in the past.
Whitehead: I can honestly say that I do not have any idea what voting is going to look like in 2022. It depends upon who wins in 2020. If Joe Biden wins, my hope is that one of the first things that he does is secure the vote. If he does not win, I think it will only get harder as the Republican party works to use the law to concentrate the power into the hands of a privileged minority.
Van Hollen: It’s hard to predict the future, but I believe with strong leadership America will be on a path to normalcy by 2022. The bottom line is that voting must be accessible for all Americans so their voices are heard and we preserve the foundation of our democracy.
Khouzami: Really too early to say, but I think, like many things, what is considered “normal” going forward will look very different from anything we’ve seen in the recent past. It is possible that voting by mail will be the preference for most people. For people who vote in person, booths will probably be set up to allow for proper social distancing, even if COVID-19 is no longer a threat. For me, I may continue to vote by mail simply because it’s so convenient.
Vignarajah: There may not be a lot we’ll want to remember or take from 2020, but I hope we’ll keep every measure that has expanded the vote. The health of our democracy is preserved and strengthened when we make voting as easy and accessible as possible.
Perman: I think our options will likely be similar to those we were given this year.