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Baltimore City Election Workers Begin Canvassing Mail-In Ballots Postmarked By Election Day

Election workers throughout Maryland resumed the counting of mail-in ballots Thursday, after completing Election Day returns.

Unlike workers in some critical swing states who did not begin counting mail-in ballots until this week, Maryland election workers began sorting and counting early ballots in October. More than 1.3 million mail-in ballots were returned to the state before Election Day.

At the sprawling Baltimore City Board of Elections’ Voting Machine Warehouse in West Baltimore, masked workers sat well over six feet apart from each other, but operating in teams, to sort, process and count these ballots as their managers looked on.

All the while, the city board broadcast their canvassing work online.

“Things are going real well and we look to move forward and work towards certification by next week,” Armstead Jones, the Baltimore City Board of Elections director, said. 

Counting will continue through this week and possibly into the next, Jones said. Results are scheduled to be certified by Nov. 13.

When the Maryland Board of Elections mailed all eligible voters mail-in ballot applications over the summer, voters who could not receive a ballot in the mail were given the option of receiving it through email.  The board asked voters not to choose the internet delivery option unless absolutely necessary, as it slows down the count.

Jones was unsure of the exact number of these types of ballots his workers had to process, but said that it was quite a few.

Workers began the tedious process of counting these types of ballots, called recreation, on Thursday. The ballots printed at home on standard printer paper cannot be read by counting machines, so workers must recreate the information on each web ballot onto a ballot that can.

Each ballot has a unique tracking number that does not allow it to be counted more than once. Once a web ballot arrives at the warehouse, workers check the number before they proceed to recreate it. 

That can take a long time, because it involves matching each web ballot to its type of ballot style, which depends on where a voter lives. 

“Since there's 296 styles, we have to pull them by hand and put them together with the ballot that was emailed so someone can recreate it,” election worker Ivan McAfee said. 

The workers do have several tools at their disposal to make the process slightly less arduous, such as a machine that can open up to 50 envelopes in a matter of seconds by delicately slicing their flaps.

“It’s a more efficient way to get the ballots out of their envelopes than manually,” election worker Curt Baskerville said.

All in all, Jones said, the second election to be held during the pandemic went much more smoothly  than the primary  in June, when in-person early voting was not an option. In that election, polling centers saw long lines and some ballots were mistakenly formatted.

“Once you've gone through it once, you know some of the factors that you need to put into play to make sure that everyone is being safe,” he said.


Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
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