If you are an eligible voter in Maryland, you should get your application for a mail-in ballot in the mail any day now.
It marks the start of a bizarre, unprecedented election season for voters and election officials alike.
In Baltimore County, elections director Katie Brown said they’ve already received more than 53,000 vote-by-mail applications. That’s mostly from people who applied online and that’s about one tenth of all registered voters in the county.
Brown says the applications are coming in faster than they can be processed and that she has a backlog of more than 13,000 applications.
“I need to get bodies in here to help process these,” Brown said. “I have no other choice but to go over budget.”
To vote by mail, you have to send back an application.
If you want to do your local elections officials a favor, when you apply, ask to receive your November ballot by mail, not by email. Here’s why. If you are emailed a ballot, you still have to mail it back in or drop it off. That emailed ballot is not scanner-worthy. It will have to be copied on another ballot that can be read by the scanner.
At a Baltimore County elections board meeting Wednesday, board member Bruce Harris said ballots you get via the web rather than by mail slow down the vote counting and mean more work.
“That bothers me,” Harris said. “I tell all my friends don’t ask for the web, ask for the mail. If you need to drop it off, that’s fine.”
As for drop-offs, if you want to avoid voting in person but you don’t want to send back your completed ballot by mail, localities will have secure drop-off boxes.
In Baltimore County there will be 13 of them available during early voting, which starts October 26. Most of them will be at early voting sites. You can find a list of early voting sites at local boards of elections websites.
On Election Day, there will be poll workers outside Baltimore County’s 31 voting centers with bags. You can drop your ballot in the bag. Brown said your vote will be safe there.
“They’re locked and sealed,” she said. “Once it goes in you can’t just pull it back out without having a key and the zipper at the bottom of the bag to get them out. It’s just not like a Walmart bag.”
So what if you request a mail-in ballot, then decide to vote in person? Not a good idea.
You’ll still get to vote, but you’ll have to fill out a provisional ballot so they can make sure you didn’t vote twice. Elections board member Carol Byrd said that will just add to your in-person voting hassle.
“If they request the ballot they need to vote that ballot or they’re really going to be standing in line for a long time,” Byrd said.
Elections officials fear those long lines and want you to vote by mail.
Turnout this presidential election year is expected to be high. Because of a shortage of election judges, localities are scaling back the number of places you can vote.
Early voting and Election Day voting centers are going to be pretty weird places. Poll workers will be in personal protection gear. Everything’s going to get repeatedly wiped down. You’ll need to social distance, and Brown said if you’re not wearing a mask you don’t get to vote.
But if you decide to go through all of that and vote in person, in Baltimore County you will get a consolation prize--an ink pen left over from the 2020 census count.
“Since they weren’t able to do their big census push, go door to door,” Brown said. “COVID kind of left them to do most of that online. So we’ll have them, they’ll be a one-time use. Take it with you.”
If you decide to skip the pen and apply for a mail-in ballot, you should receive it around the first week of October.