Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan ratified the state Board of Elections’ decision to allow the June 2 primary amid the coronavirus pandemic with limited in-person voting, but still encourages voters to cast their ballots by mail.
Millions of voters are scheduled to receive absentee ballots in the mail with prepaid postage to return their results to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
Certain circumstances will allow for some in-person voting for voters who didn’t receive a ballot in the mail, people with physical limitations, or a language barrier.
“In those rare cases where people must vote in person, significant social distancing practices must be implemented,” Hogan said Friday, April 10 during a press conference in Annapolis.
From that day, it gives local election officials less than eight weeks to higher election judges, safeguards for voting precincts and whether any personal protective equipment will be available for judges and pollsters.
Because of the state’s directive of 10 or fewer people allowed to gather in one area, testing equipment, training judges and packing supplies usually takes more than 10 people to perform.
According to the state’s Board of Elections comprehensive plan, it takes more than 20,000 election judges to conduct an election.
However, local election boards are reporting 25 percent vacancy rates for early voting and 26 on Election Day.
“As a result of the current public health emergency, the local boards of elections expect that more election judges — the majority of whom are over 60 years old — will resign their appointments and recruitment efforts will become even more difficult,” according to the plan adopted April 2. “Additional election judges might be needed if health screenings are required to enter the facilities.”
People who do vote in person must travel to an early voting precinct, or return drop off ballots inside containers outside the building.
Because of the coronavirus surge, election officials in Maryland cannot conduct voter registration and absentee ballot programs inside nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
State officials hope this would decrease the number of people who come out to vote. In addition, all 23 counties and Baltimore City can open between one to four early voting centers that would also allow same-day voter registration.
Some jurisdictions early voting precincts, including Prince George’s County, which has 11. The state will allow the local election boards to choose which places to open.
Alisha Alexander, election administrator in the county, said in an April 14 email; that the four sites scheduled to open are Kentland Community Center, College Park Community Center, Bowie Gymnasium and Southern Regional Technology and Recreation Complex in Fort Washington.
One of the county’s biggest voting precincts, Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning Complex in Landover, may not be available because County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced last week the complex could serve as a potential alternative care site for those who test positive for COVID-19. The governor sent the Army Corps of Engineers to assess the feasibility of handling patients at the site.
The majority-Black jurisdiction has the highest number of positive coronavirus cases in the state.
As of March 31, the county has 628,929 registered voters, Alexander said, adding that the election board continues to assess how many poll workers would be needed at each site since most of them are 60 or older. She said information could be provided within the next two weeks.
Personal protective equipment has been ordered for election judges, other staff and poll workers. Social distancing practices will also implemented at the polls.
“This is a pandemic that none of us have ever experienced before and has presented numerous challenges for elections,” she said. “As the elections administrator, there are many difficult decisions to be made that strikes a balance between protecting the health and safety of our employees, election judges and voters and ensuring that citizens can exercise their right to vote.”
Voting advocates continue to urge state and local election officials to provide not only a variety of options but also transparency in the process to keep voters informed.
“Getting that information out early and often to folks, whether it is mailers, on a website, [or] even robocalls to voters to let them know the information they need is extremely important,” said Diallo Brooks, senior director of outreach and public engagement for People for the American Way in northwest D.C. “Board of Elections officials need to be all over that. I know their hands are full. We need to make sure we dismantle all the barriers for citizens to participate.”