Residents of Smith Island won’t have to travel to the mainland to vote in person for the Nov. 3 election, officials announced Wednesday.
After state election officials axed regular in-person polling locations in favor of fewer, larger voting centers last month, residents of the isolated southern Maryland island were faced with a costly boat ride if they wanted to cast their ballot in person, State Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-Somerset County) said in a release.
While state election officials are encouraging Marylanders to vote by mail, they have repeatedly emphasized the importance of allowing voters’ multiple options for casting their ballots. Somerset County’s three vote centers are all located on the mainland, with even the nearest location to Smith island requiring a 45-minute ferry ride.
“While we understand the extraordinary challenges that COVID-19 has presented in dramatically reducing the overall number of voting sites across Maryland, going from 1,800 in a normal election year to approximately 315 during COVID-19, we needed to protect the voting rights of Smith Island voters to vote in-person on Election Day,” Carozza said. “We also expect Smith Island to return as a normal polling location in the 2022 election.”
Carozza described the push to make sure residents of Smith Island could cast in-person ballots as a “total team effort,” and said the island’s isolation makes it a unique case for the upcoming election.
“All of us were deeply concerned that the reduction in polling locations would disenfranchise Smith Island voters,” Carozza said. “We pointed out that with no polling location on Smith Island, voters who wanted to vote in-person would be burdened with the cost of a boat ride and the risk and inconvenience to travel to the mainland to vote.”
According to the release, Maryland Election Administrator Linda Lamone ordered the Somerset County Board of Elections to complete in-person voting as early as possible on Election Day, so the local board can process the ballots on time.
In a separate statement, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.,) said residents of the island could have been disenfranchised if in-person voting wasn’t available ― and pointed out that inclement weather could have prevented access to voting on election day.
“I am very pleased that Smith Island will now have an in-person polling location this fall. Local residents and elected officials, especially Senator Carozza, deserve credit for helping to provide the ability for Smith Island residents to vote locally, without fear of interruption by weather that might impede their travel to the mainland, thereby avoiding the potential disenfranchisement of my constituents’ voting rights on election day,” Harris said.