Elections Board Discards Requirement for Team Counting of Mail-in Ballots

Photo by Angela Breck

State elections officials on Friday nixed a requirement for a team to count mail-in ballots for the November election, citing the unprecedented volume of expected voting by mail.

The emergency changes, which would only apply to the upcoming Nov. 3 election, provide that an individual election judge can canvass mail-in ballots by themselves – so long as the public can watch.

The regulatory change, made at Friday’s meeting of the State Board of Elections, means that local boards will be able to streamline the ballot counting process if they allow members of the public to watch the ballot canvass in person, according to the regulatory changes. Canvassing a ballot normally requires a bipartisan team of election workers, and involves verifying “the timeliness of a mail-in ballot, the presence of a signed oath, opening the return envelope, and determining whether the ballot can be scanned.”

Whether to allow the change will be up to Maryland’s local boards of elections. If a local board livestreams the canvass, the counting process will require the usual two-person team.

The change is similar to an emergency regulatory change that was approved for Maryland’s largely mail-in June 2 primary, Deputy Election Administrator Nikki Charlson said. That change allowed for one individual to canvass ballots. Charlson called the requirement for in-person observation a “compromise” based on feedback from local boards of elections from the previous change.

“Those that responded to the request for feedback appreciated the flexibility,” Charlson said.

Transposing votes from ballots printed at home onto scannable ballots will still require a bipartisan team, Charlson said.

Applications for mail-in ballots have soared throughout Maryland in recent weeks: A total of 497,514 mail-in ballot requests had been received statewide as of Sept. 3.

Officials also temporarily changed a requirement for election officials to reject a provisional and absentee ballot if both are received from the same voter. For the Nov. 3 election, officials will only reject the provisional ballot and count the mail-in ballot.

Local boards of elections are now looking to build up a surplus of election judges for November, David Garreis, the president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, said. A vast majority of vacancies have been filled across the state since officials made the move from precinct-level polling locations to larger voting centers, Garreis said.

And although a vast majority of those new voting centers have been approved for the November election, Baltimore City has yet to submit its plan. Democratic Board Member Patrick J. Hogan noted that the city is one of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions — and will also be one of the last to get its voting centers approved.

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