State Elections Board Sets Dates for Early Voting

The Maryland State Board of Elections has extended the days for early voting in the fall. Photo by the Howard County Board of Elections.

Early voting in Maryland will take place between Oct. 26 and Nov. 2 ― one day before Election Day ― State Board of Elections members decided at their Wednesday afternoon meeting.

The State Board of Elections’ plan previously called for Maryland’s 80 early voting centers to open across the state beginning on Oct. 29. Board members unanimously recommended expanding the days for early voting.

The locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on all eight days of early voting and will remain open on Election Day.

The decision to expand early voting came days after Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) approved the State Board of Elections plan to use Maryland’s 282 public high schools ― or an equivalent number of locations ― as voting centers on Election Day instead of opening every precinct-level polling location.

That means at least 362 voting centers will be open for Election Day, although State Board of Elections Chairman Michael R. Cogan emphasized local boards should try to expand the number of early and Election Day voting centers.

“These are a floor, they’re not a ceiling,” Cogan said. “We want as many voting sites as possible.”

State Board Vice Chairman Patrick J. Hogan (D) said he hopes the longer early voting period will cut down on wait times for voters on Election Day.

“The more people vote early, the better off we’ll be on Election Day,” Hogan, who is not related to the governor, said. “None of us want long lines on Election Day.”

The decision to expand early voting days came after a warning from Maryland Association of Election Officials David Garreis, who cautioned the board against overextending early voting days. He said more early voting days could exacerbate local election boards’ staffing woes.

Garreis noted that, even after Gov. Hogan approved the state board’s plan for voting centers instead of precinct-level polling locations, election judges are continuing to drop out of the November election.

“We’re losing staff,” Garreis said. “You have to be cognizant of the fact that we’re still dealing with COVID-19.”

Garreis said more election staff would also mean a greater risk for COVID-19 exposure, which could force election officials to quarantine as the election approaches.

The elections board meeting came hours after Maryland State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) initiated a discussion about the election during a Board of Public Works meeting. He called the upcoming election an “impending trainwreck” and raised concerns over the United States Postal Service.

Franchot worried that, unless local boards of elections get logistical help from the state, they won’t be able to process the massive number of mail-in ballots and applications expected for the November election.

Maryland Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) said the state should try to avoid using the Postal Service as much as possible, and raised concerns over the requirement for Marylanders to fill out an application before getting a mail-in ballot. She noted that sending mail-in ballots directly to voters was an effective way to conduct the June primary.

“It worked, and it wasn’t this two-step process that has obviously made things much more complicated,” Kopp said.

But Franchot ― who favors an all mail-in election this fall ― reiterated concerns over the way the primary was conducted, characterizing it as “sloppy” due to errors and late ballot deliveries. Some voters in Maryland, particularly those in Baltimore City, received late or incorrect ballots during the primary. The overwhelming majority of mail-in ballots were delivered correctly.

Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) pointed out during the Board of Public Works meeting that more than 100,000 ballots were marked as undeliverable during the primary, and said he didn’t think election officials could pull off an entirely mail-in November election.

“Based on their history, I don’t have faith that they would be able to carry out total mail-in,” Rutherford said.

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