Facing heavy criticism and a limited number of election judges to work at polling locations for the Nov. 3 general election, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a proclamation Monday to allow for voting centers throughout the state.
The move will depart from a traditional election Hogan sought with more than 1,800 precincts amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Hogan agreed with a recommendation made Friday by the state Board of Elections to incorporate about 360 voting centers, which will allow voters to cast a ballot at any voting location within their respective jurisdiction.
This will be the first time Maryland conducts an election in this format.
“I remain very concerned that the board’s decision to close nearly 80% of the polls will have the potential to creating long lines and unsafe conditions, with crowds of people being forced into too few polling places,” the governor wrote in a letter Monday to board chairman Michael Cogan.
However, in jurisdictions such as Prince George’s County could face at least a 15% decrease in election judges for the Nov. 3 election.
After Hogan released his proclamation and letter, one idea discussed during a county board of elections meeting would be to increase pay.
Elections Administrator Alisha Alexander summarized the current payment structure: $50 for training; $200 to work as an election judge: and $300 as a chief judge. She said discussions are underway to provide an additional $100 in “hazard pay” for training and each position.
“Even without the hazard pay, that would be a nice add-on for a college student or retired person to their normal income,” said John Rowe, the board chair.
One big concern of some state, local and voting administration officials is the mailing of absentee ballots to all four million registered voters in the state.
Hogan urged state election officials to mail out the applications for voters to request absentee ballots, a decision critics have said will create additional cost in manpower, paperwork and other resources.
Groups such as Maryland House Democrats are urging voters to request absentee ballots immediately.
“We need your help to reduce the #MailInVoting request curve. Request your mail-in ballot today!” the group tweeted Monday. “This will ensure your voter information is up-to-date and really help your county board of elections administer the election.”
In Prince George’s County, there could be four different early voting locations to accommodate more space with fewer election officials.
The Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center remains a COVID-19 testing site, so voters in that area can travel less than two miles away to Laurel High School.
In the southern part of the county, voters would cast ballots at the 75,000-square-foot Southern Area Aquatics and Recreation Complex in Brandywine that opened this year. It would replace the smaller 3,900-square-foot Baden Community Center.
Two other locations are tentative because of possible future events: Showplace Arena in Upper Marlboro and inside a pavilion at the University of Maryland Xfinity Center in College Park. Those larger venues would replace the smaller Upper Marlboro and College Park community centers, respectively.
“We are hoping to get a confirmation by the end of this week for both facilities,” Alexander said. “We want to start getting the word out to voters as quickly as we possibly can, but we’re keeping the College Park Community Center and the Upper Marlboro Community Center … in the event we can’t use these other facilities.”
For more information on requesting an absentee ballot, go to https://bit.ly/3ae5iBD.