Today, we’re going to talk about voting: how to do it safely and correctly, and efforts to assure that the results are accurate and that the election is conducted fairly.
The 2020 election ends two weeks from tomorrow. More than 28 million people around the country - about 20% of eligible voters - have already cast their ballots, either in person at early-voting centers, by mail, or by depositing them in official drop boxes. Democrats have outvoted Republicans by a 2-1 margin in early voting, so far.
For Maryland voters, tomorrow (Tuesday, Oct. 20) is the deadline to request a mail-in ballot online for the November election. Tom's first guest today is Nikki Charlson. She’s the Deputy Administrator at the Maryland State Board of Elections. She joins us on Zoom to explain what Maryland voters need to know about mail-in balloting, early in-person voting and election-day balloting...
President Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr and a long list of Republican political leaders have been warning for months that the heavy reliance on mail-in balloting because of the pandemic this election season is inviting massive voter fraud. As a result, the President has said, the election results might not be legitimate. Tom's next guest is Lily Hay Newman, a senior writer at WIRED Magazine, covering information security, digital privacy, and hacking. Her piece in this month’s WIRED -- called How We’ll Know the Election Wasn’t Rigged -- shows that fraud is the last thing absentee voters need to worry about. Lily Hay Newman joins Tom on Zoom…
In a remarkable break with norms and traditions, President Trump has repeatedly suggested that he might not accept the results of the November 3rd election. Such a scenario has raised widespread alarm that the prospects of a peaceful transfer of presidential power and the democratic process itself could be threatened.
In response, leaders of more than 100 grass-root groups, from Indivisible and Move On.org to Republicans for Rule of Law, formed a coalition they call Protect the Results. It’s mobilizing thousands of people to counter any illegitimate challenges to the election outcome. One of the leaders of the coalition is Sean Eldridge, the founder and executive director of Stand Up America, a pro-democracy and voting rights group. He is Tom's final guest today, and he joins us on Zoom.
If someone hasn’t requested a mail-in ballot by the Oct. 20 deadline, what are their options between now and the election?
Nikki Charlson: "After the deadline, you can still get a mail-in ballot but you have to go to your local board of elections. You'll fill out the form, they'll give you your ballot, you can mark it there and drop it in the ballot drop off box, or can take it home with you and do it."
How many Maryland residents have cast ballots so far?
Nikki Charlson: "Local boards of elections have received over 575,000 ballots. Local election officials have started counting ballots on a schedule that’s posted on their websites. In the 2016 general election we had 275,000 voters ask to get what we called then an absentee ballot [now called a mail-in ballot.] We are over 1.6 million now.”
For a mail-in ballot to be mailed through the postal service and to be eligible to be counted, does it have to arrive at the board of elections by Election Day, or does it have to be postmarked by Tuesday, Nov. 3?
Nikki Charlson: “It has to be postmarked by Nov. 3 and it has to arrive by Nov. 13 so we have a long transit period, but it must be postmarked on or before Nov. 3. That is the most common reason why mail-in ballots can’t be counted is that they weren’t mailed on time. If you’re putting your ballot in the mail on Nov. 3, make sure it’s going to get postmarked. If that mailbox has already been picked up for the day, it’s not going to get postmarked. We’re advising voters to do everything early. If you have your ballot and you’re done, put it in the mail or use one of our ballot drop off boxes. We have 284 of them around the state and they are open 24/7 and will be open until 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. And those are collected at least daily by local election officials so your ballot will get to your local board much quicker if you put it in the ballot drop off boxes that we have around the state."
What are the most common mistakes that voters tend to make which causes their ballots to not be counted?
Nikki Charlson: "Maryland is a state that has a very high acceptance rate. We generally accept 97%, 98% of the mail-in ballots that we receive. But by far the most common reason why a ballot is rejected is because it was late and it was not mailed timely. It needs to be postmarked on or before Nov. 3.
The second most common reason, but it’s far behind the late, is that the oath that is printed on the back of the return envelope, under the flap, is not signed. Local election officials are reaching out to voters who returned their ballot envelope and the oath isn’t signed so we do have a process in place to remedy that and ask that if voters get a call, an email or a letter from their local board saying that their oath wasn’t signed, to please take care of that quickly because we can’t count the ballot if that oath isn’t signed."
To watch a video that explains how to return your ballot and how to sign the oath (at the 4:40 mark) click here.
Caller question: I applied for and received a mail-in ballot but have since decided to vote in person. Will there be any confusion in the system even if I don’t post my ballot?
Nikki Charlson: "Because we’ve already issued a ballot, if she tries to vote in person, she’s going to have to vote a provisional ballot. And that’s just to make sure that we don’t receive the mail-in ballot. If a voter changes their mind and wants to vote in person, it will take a little bit longer to work through the process because you’re filling out a form and you’re voting. That ballot will be held and taken back to the local board to confirm that there hasn’t been another ballot already voted by that voter."
If you still have questions about how to vote, and about some of the candidates and issues on the ballot, check out our WYPR Voting Guide.