Local election officials yesterday made a final appeal to the State Board of Elections (SBE) to implement a series of recommendations to address concerns over a shortage of poll workers, polling places, and personal protective equipment in the midst of a pandemic.
As previously reported on Conduit Street, under Governor Hogan’s plan, all in-person voting locations will be open and voters will be mailed an absentee ballot application (instead of an absentee ballot). for the November 3 general election.
The Maryland Association of Election Officials (MAEO), the professional membership organization consisting of local election officials and Election Boards from all 24 jurisdictions in the State of Maryland, has warned that Governor Hogan’s plan will be “costly, inefficient, and unsuccessful” and says that the directive will lead to confusion and long lines at polling places.
“We are making our final appeal to your decision making authority before we enter a period where no amount of backpedaling or last-minute changes will avoid a catastrophic failure of the 2020 Presidential General Election,” MAEO wrote in a letter to the State Board.
According to MAEO, local boards are short about a third of the poll workers they would need to open all polling sites on election day. Additionally, nearly 100 polling places have indicated that they will not allow their facilities to serve as voting sites for the November 3 election.
MAEO is asking for the board to approve centralized vote centers — places where any county resident can vote, regardless of their precinct, a centralized mail-in ballot application processing center, for the canvassing of mail-in ballots to begin one month prior to election day, and adjusting the vote-by-mail application deadline by one week.
“We are providing four common-sense recommendations for the conduct of the Election in the hopes that the powers that be will find a way to adopt these policies and provide the voters of Maryland with a convenient and hassle-free opportunity to vote, either by mail-in ballot, during early voting, or on Election Day.”
According to the MAEO Letter:
Nearly all 24 Local Election Boards (LBEs) in Maryland are suffering a severe shortage of Election Judges constituting an emergency situation. Many LBEs have provided consolidation plans for SBE’s consideration at this meeting. The LBEs are concerned that consolidation is a band-aid on a problem that requires surgery.
SBE needs to adopt vote centers, to operate from Thursday, October 29, 2020 through Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Each LBE should operate the equivalent number of voter centers as Early Voting sites in their jurisdiction and have the option of adding up to two additional sites. This will eliminate voter confusion by allowing voters to cast their ballot at any vote center operating in the jurisdiction and will reduce the likelihood of voters using provisional ballots to vote. Due to the economies of scale, the LBEs can utilize
Centralized Vote By Mail Application Processing Center
The LBEs are receiving Vote by Mail applications at a higher rate this year at this point in the election cycle than in any previous Election. Large LBEs such as Montgomery County have received nearly 30,000 Vote by Mail applications already.
Due to the high volume of applications, the LBEs will need to hire more temporary staff. In many cases, this will make social distancing and safe practices difficult or impossible at many offices. Additionally, if the LBE has a staff member report to work with Coronavirus, their staff members may need to take fourteen days or more off work when they are most needed to work in person. There is currently no viable backup plan in place in the event the LBEs have a coronavirus outbreak and must shut down temporarily.
SBE needs to establish a Centralized Vote by Mail Application Data Processing Center. In this proposal, all applications mailed by SBE will be returned to one central location in Maryland which will be responsible for entering the Vote by Mail ballot request information into the existing statewide voter registration database and generating a ballot request for a vendor to mail the ballot. This will take advantage of the economies of scale while allowing the LBEs to concentrate on other critical tasks related to the election, including preparing the voting system, training election judges, and canvassing returned mail-in ballots.
Canvassing Returned Vote by Mail Ballots 30 days before Election Day
Based on lessons learned from the 2020 Presidential Primary Election in Maryland, the LBEs will need several weeks to canvass the returned mail-in ballots. SBE needs to authorize the canvassing of the mail-in ballots beginning one month prior to Election Day on Monday, October 5, 2020.
If mail-in ballots are returned at an equivalent rate as the Primary Election, the LBEs will need additional time to canvass the ballots, or the final results of the Election will be delayed. The LBEs cannot begin the first canvass of the ballots as it is currently scheduled on November 5, 2020 and expect to finish by the scheduled Absentee 2 Canvass on November 13, 2020.
Allowing the LBEs to canvass the ballots in October and embargo the results, as is already the procedure for Early Voting, will allow the LBEs to provide mail-in ballot results on Election Day and the timely completion of the canvassing process. This process was already successfully utilized in the 2020 Primary.
Adjusting the Vote by Mail Application Deadline by 1 Week
Previous experience has taught the LBEs many voters wait until the last minute to send their mail-in ballot application. SBE needs to move the deadline to return the mail-in ballot application forward one week from the current deadline.
The current deadline is October 27, 2020, which does not leave the LBEs with enough time to process vote by mail requests and mail the ballots. Nor does it leave enough time for the voter to vote the ballots and return them. The deadline needs to be moved to October 21, 2020.
SBE will consider the recommendations at their meeting on Friday, August 7. SBE on Friday will also consider several proposals to consolidate polling places due to staff and facility shortages.
Eleven local boards — Allegany, Anne Arundel, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s, Talbot, and Washington Counties — requested polling place changes.
Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.