The Maryland State Board of Elections approved a plan Friday to allow six consecutive days of voting for this year’s general election, including use of the state’s 282 high schools.
Voters would be allowed to either mail in absentee ballots, drop them off at ballot boxes, or vote in person from Oct. 29 through Election Day on Nov. 3.
The proposal involves using each location as voting centers, which would permit voters to cast their ballots in person at any polling location in their respective jurisdictions. Besides the early voting centers open in each county and Baltimore City during that timeframe, public high schools would be available only on Election Day.
“We have to think outside the box,” said board member Malcolm Funn. “The whole idea of [voting] centers is a novel idea. It should work.”
The proposal calls for each jurisdiction to have an equal number of voting centers and high schools available for voters. Calvert County has four high schools but one early voting center, so an additional three precincts would be needed on Election Day.
Prince George’s County has 11 early voting centers. The school system’s website list 29 high schools in the majority-Black jurisdiction.
There’s a slight hurdle: Gov. Larry Hogan must approve the plan, and the governor has stressed for all 1,800 voting precincts in the state to not only be open on Election Day, but also to have all absentee ballot applications mailed to the more than four million voters immediately.
Hogan ordered in June for the board of elections to present a plan for the election by July 3. On Monday, he wrote a letter sternly calling for a plan to be approved by Wednesday because “this is your sole responsibility and your only job.”
However, the board only approved to move back deadlines for absentee ballot requests to be returned by Oct. 20 instead of Oct. 27, which would grant election workers more time to process applications.
On Friday, the board decided to allow Hogan to make the call.
“What do we do if the governor turns us down?” said board member Kelley Howells.
“Then we move on our own authority to consolidate,” said board chair Michael Cogan.
The state Association of Election Officials doesn’t support consolidating voting facilities.
According to a letter from the association, combining certain voting locales would mean more election judges would be needed. Fewer people are willing to volunteer at the polls due to the COVID-19 outbreak, said David Garreis, president of the association.
The state would need to spend more money on printing ballots and personal protective equipment for judges and to clean election equipment.
Although some state and county lawmakers and voting advocates have urged for voters to receive absentee ballots by mail similar to the June 2 primary, Hogan has said voters can receive applications to request an absentee ballot to avoid in-person voting. Voters can go to elections.maryland.gov and click on “Request for Mail-in Ballot for Nov. 3.”
“We need a clear path to success,” said Guy Mickley, election administrator for Howard County. “Consolidations certainly will help us, but vote centers will afford us all of the aforementioned advantages to all us to maximize our time and provide the level of customer service that the voters of Maryland deserve.”