State Senator: Gaps in Ballot Drop-Box Placement Could Disenfranchise Baltimore Voters

    A Maryland State Senator says a “staggering geographic gap” in the placement of ballot drop-off boxes in Baltimore could disenfranchise Black voters.

    Several Baltimore neighborhoods don’t have access to drop-off boxes for the upcoming election, Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City) warned in a Monday letter to local election officials.

    “Large portions of East and Northeast Baltimore are without equal access to drop-boxes, noticeably placing a greater burden upon our neighbors in these communities,” McCray said.

    Belair Edison, Fort Worthington, New Broadway, Orchard Ridge and Parkside all lack access to drop-boxes, McCray wrote. He said his legislative district, where more than 70 percent of residents are Black, was allocated less drop-boxes than the city’s other districts.

    McCray also pointed out huge gaps in the placement of ballot drop-boxes in his district, with more than five miles between some of the locations. He said many of the drop-box locations in his district are in areas with “limited transportation options,” and asked Baltimore City Election Director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. to allocate another drop-box to his district.

    “Without immediate action we will disenfranchise residents of East and Northeast Baltimore, and more Black people will unnecessarily question the trustworthiness of our election systems,” McCray wrote.

    McCray proposed an additional ballot box at one of four centrally-located schools in his district.

    Jones did not respond to a request for comment at press time. There will be roughly 280 ballot drop-boxes across the state for the upcoming election, and the boxes will be under 24-hour surveillance once they are deployed. State election officials otherwise gave local boards wide discretion when it came to placing drop-boxes.

    According to the State Board of Elections, there won’t be any additional ballot boxes for the Nov. 3 election. Nationwide demand for the drop boxes has put a squeeze on the limited supply of vendors.

    “The Maryland State Board of Elections has already secured all the ballot boxes it could obtain in time for the election on November 3. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant increase in demand for ballot drop boxes nationwide,” a statement from the State Board of Elections reads. “This unprecedented demand, combined with production specifications that vary by state, have made it difficult for vendors to meet tight manufacturing timelines and deliver customized boxes in advance of the general election.”

    Ballot drop-boxes aren’t the only way for voters to turn in a mailed ballot: Voters who requested a ballot by mail will be given pre-paid postage to return their ballot to their local board of elections. Voters who requested an emailed ballot will need to use their own postage.

    This map shows the placement of ballot boxes by legislative district in Baltimore. McCray’s district is marked in red, and the locations McCray proposed for an additional drop-off box are marked in green:

    Bennett Leckrone
    Leckrone is a December 2019 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He has interned at The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Columbus Dispatch, PennLive.com, The Dayton Daily News and The Troy Daily News. Leckrone is a Report for America corps member.