Faced with a thousands of poll workers vacancies for the upcoming election, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) signed off Monday on officials’ plan to open Maryland’s public high schools as voting centers on Election Day.
In a letter to the State Board of Elections, Hogan said he’ll allow election officials to use Maryland’s 282 public high schools – or an equivalent number of locations – as voting centers for the Nov. 3 election.
Hogan previously ordered all of Maryland’s more than 1,800 polling places to be open for the upcoming election, but because of the fear of contagion during the COVID-19 outbreak, local election boards struggled to find the thousands of election judges needed to conduct a normal election. The governor warned that fewer voting locations will require an even larger emphasis on vote-by-mail.
“I remain very concerned that the Board’s decision to close nearly 80% of the polls will have the potential of creating long lines and unsafe conditions, with crowds of people being forced into too few polling places,” Hogan wrote.
The State Board of Elections’ plan allows a minimum of 282 voting centers across the state for the Nov. 3 election. Additionally, the state’s 80 early voting centers will be open across the state from Oct. 29 through Nov. 3. Board members unanimously recommended the proposal at a virtual meeting last Friday.
Howard County Elections Director Guy Mickley warned the State Board of Elections of thousands of vacant poll worker positions across the state at the Friday meeting.
“If nothing is done, and we must staff Early Voting Centers and full polling places on Election Day, there will be process breakdowns, polls that will not open, and polls that do not have enough judges to effectively run an election,” Mickley said.
The voting centers won’t be like precinct-level polling locations: Voters don’t have to go to a specific location to cast their ballot as long as they’re residents of the county where the polling place is located. Maryland’s early voting centers already operate under this method.
The State Board of Elections’ plan differed from the one set forth by the Maryland Association of Election Officials, which called for 162 voting centers to have opened across the state from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3, combining early voting and Election Day.
Hogan’s Monday proclamation means local boards of elections won’t have to consolidate smaller polling centers to make up for poll worker vacancies. Eleven counties requested to consolidate some of their polling locations before Hogan’s Monday proclamation.
While the move is a victory for local election officials and advocates who warned against opening all of Maryland’s polling locations, voters will still have to apply before receiving a mail-in ballot. Calls continued last week for Hogan to reverse his decision to send out applications instead of ballots, with several state lawmakers demanding Hogan mail every voter a ballot.