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Election coverage from WYPR and NPR

Baltimore County to start counting mail-in ballots this month; see plans across Maryland

Baltimore Mail-in Ballots
Julio Cortez/AP
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AP
A woman drops a ballot into a drop box while casting her vote during Maryland's primary election in Baltimore.

Baltimore County election officials are pushing to start processing mail-in ballots as soon as possible, a departure from previous plans where the county would wait until after Election Day due to scheduling conflicts. County Elections Director Ruie Lavoie said Friday her staff will start counting mail-in ballots Oct. 24 in addition to Nov. 5 and Nov. 6, dates which were announced earlier this week. Maryland election officials won a court battle that would allow local boards of elections to start processing mail-in ballots as early as Oct. 1.

The Maryland State Board of Elections filed an emergency petition in Montgomery County Circuit Court to count ballots early that was challenged in the state’s highest court by Republican nominee for governor Dan Cox, but the state won.

Officials were concerned it would take months to certify the election otherwise because 524,800 voters requested mail-ballots statewide for the Nov. 8 general election. Results won’t be posted online until after polls close.

Mail-in Ballot Maryland
Rachel Baye
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There were more than 500,000 mail-in ballots requested by voters across Maryland for the general election this year.

In Baltimore County, three days of early mail-in ballot processing might not be enough to finish by Election Day, which is the goal, said County Executive Johnny Olszewski.

“We’re going to do everything we can given the limitations the board faces to ensure as many ballots as possible are counted in advance so we have a lot more clarity or at least as much clarity as we can possibly have in the outcome of this election,” Olszewski said.

Olszewski himself is on the ballot as the Democrat is running against Republican Pat McDonough, a former State Delegate.

Lavoie said she hopes her staff can count up to 10,000 ballots each of the three days. She added that could be challenging because the county has a three page ballot.

“We’re going to have that many ready to try,” Lavoie said.

Any ballots that are mailed in and postmarked by Nov. 8 but received after Election Day will still be counted.

Earlier this week, the county had received more than 81,000 requests for mail-in ballots. There are about 607,000 eligible voters across Baltimore County.

Lavoie has been scrambling since the court ruling last week gave the green light to counting the ballots ahead of time.

Republican Cox tried urging local election officials to wait until after Election Day voluntarily despite losing the court battle. Cox argues that it’s not an emergency and the state should have planned ahead. But that’s not why Baltimore County previously decided to wait.

At first, Lavoie said they likely were going to have to wait until after the election to count the mail-ins because there was no room to do that and other pre-election activities like training poll judges. But now the county has made arrangements to move that training elsewhere.

“I really pushed for a quick solution once I was made aware of some of the limitations. I’m proud to say in about a week we were able to do that,” Olszewski said.

Meanwhile, Frederick County expects to begin counting mail-in ballots on Oct. 17. Baltimore City is anticipated to start processing mail-in ballots on Oct. 21, according to its website. Prince George’s County will start on Oct. 20. Calvert, Howard, Montgomery, St. Mary’s and Washington counties are also expected to start counting this month.

According to the Maryland State Board of Elections, the following localities won’t begin processing mail-in ballots until Nov. 10: Anne Arundel, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Garrett, Harford, Kent, Queen Anne's, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico and Worcester counties.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County.
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