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Maryland elections board to recommend no in-person voting for June primary

Emily Opilo, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

BALTIMORE -- The State Board of Elections is recommending that there be no in-person voting for the June 2 primary due to the new coronavirus pandemic, pushing citizens to mail-in or drop-off ballots that would be sent to every one of Maryland's more than 4 million voters.

Leaning on advice from state health officials, who said they could not guarantee protective equipment for poll workers, board members opted Wednesday against allowing in-person voting -- even under limited circumstances. State election officials presented that path, along with other choices, at an online meeting of the board.

Under the current plan, which remains in draft form but must be submitted by April 3 to Gov. Larry Hogan, all eligible voters would receive ballots by mail before June 2. Voters could then cast those ballots by mail, using a postage-paid envelope included with the ballot, or place them in drop boxes at locations yet to be determined.

The five-member board was ordered last week to submit the plan to the governor as part of his executive order to postpone the state's April 28 primary. At the same time, the governor ordered a special general election for the 7th Congressional District, also slated for April 28, to be held on schedule but by mail only.

He stopped short of making a decision on the mechanics of the June 2 primary, but ordered the upcoming report from the board.

Marylanders will vote in the primary for nominees for president and the U.S. House. Baltimore voters also will pick nominees for mayor, City Council president, city comptroller and City Council seats.

 

Over the course of a bleak, three-hour discussion, board members lamented their inability to predict the course the virus will take by early June. Several favored keeping in-person voting an option on a limited basis at early voting centers. Early voting is currently scheduled for May 21-28.

"We could sit here and say the June 2 election will be vote by mail, it will have early voting options, it will have voting centers on Election Day -- and the governor, the chief executive, could close everything down on May 30," said Patrick Hogan, vice chairman of the board.

"We could always drop the plan to have voting centers if the situation was getting worse," said board member Kelley Howells. "That would at least give us the option."

State elections staff members urged the board to make a final decision. If ballots are to be mailed to all voters, they should go out by the last week of April, said Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for the Board of Elections. Instructions would have to be included with those ballots on how to return them, she said, and those should be in their final form when the ballots go out.

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