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Ballots Due For Maryland's First Mail-In Election

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

On Tuesday, the state of Maryland will do something it’s never done before: conduct an election almost completely by mail. Ballots for the 7th congressional district special election to fill the remainder of the late Elijah Cummings’ term in Congress must be postmarked on the 28th or placed in a drop box by 8 p.m. Tuesday. 

Gov. Larry Hogan decided to hold the election by mail last month in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has closed businesses and forced schools to hold remote classes for an indefinite period of time.

“There's a question about will this be able to be done without a hitch under very, very trying circumstances,” said Daniel Schlozman, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. 

In the aggregate, vote by mail does tend to lead to larger turnout, Schlozman said, but that’s  under circumstances in which voters understand what's going on. The pandemic is likely at the forefront of voter’s minds, instead of local politics, he said. 

The state board of elections sent out around half a million ballots. As of Saturday, they have received about 85,000 of those ballots, the most recent data available.

The board has also had to take extra precautions. As ballots arrive in the mail, elections workers store them away, untouched for a quarantine of 24 hours. They get sorted afterward. 

The board has also opened three in-person polling centers from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for those who did not receive a ballot or who cannot vote by mail -- one in Baltimore city, one in Baltimore County, and one in Howard County. The board has instructed poll workers to frequently sanitize equipment and to keep voters as far apart as possible.

The pandemic also shifted the nature of the campaign itself: Democrat Kweisi Mfume and Republican Kimberly Klacik have had to appeal to voters through social media instead of fundraisers or rallies, as containment methods keep people at home. 

Mfume is seeking to return to an office he’s already held. He served in Congress for a decade and became chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, until he left in 1996 to lead the NAACP.  

Klacik is a member of the Baltimore County Republican Central committee. Last summer, she appeared on Fox News to discuss blight and trash in Baltimore. The segment got the attention of President Trump, who attacked then-congressman Cummings and the city on Twitter.

Analysts have said Mfume will likely come out on top: 7th district Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 4 to 1.

The state board of elections will release preliminary results at 8 p.m. Tuesday. They will certify May 8. 

Tuesday’s election will determine who gets to represent the district through the rest of this year, but whoever wins will have to run again in Maryland’s regular primary on June 2. 

The special election is an important first run of Maryland’s vote by mail system: the regular June primaries will also be held by mail on a statewide scale for national and local primaries that include races for Baltimore City mayor.

Amber McReynolds, the former head of Denver’s Board of Elections who is now the CEO of Vote at Home, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on convenient voting options, says that change can be a turnout obstacle.

 “People are used to one way of doing something,” she said.

The elections may convince some Maryland voters to cast their ballots solely by mail from now on, she said. 

“A lot of people have been left out of the voting process because of the inconvenience, because they were working, because of whatever reason,” she said. “I think that this public health situation that we're in simply exposes the very significant vulnerabilities that you have when you rely on an in-person option on one day.”

Listen to a Midday interview with Kweisi Mfume (D) here.

Listen to a Midday interview with Kimberly Klacik (R) here.

Learn more about Tuesday’s polling locations here.


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