The State Board of Elections yesterday recommended limiting voting centers to 361 sites on Election Day, a move forced in part by would-be poll workers’ unwillingness to risk their lives during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Larry Hogan last month asked SBE to run a traditional election this fall, with all 1,848 precincts open. But Maryland quickly found itself with a shortage of nearly 15,000 election judges, even with incentives Hogan gave state employees.
With 88 days until November 3 as of Friday, the Maryland Association of Election Officials asked the board not to delay action any further.
“The window is closing,” MAEO President David Garreis said.
The elections board unanimously recommended 282 sites, most of them public high schools, chosen for their big gyms, auditoriums and parking lots, which would allow for physical distancing.
SBE also asked for an additional 79 early-voting sites and 127 drop boxes.
Board Vice Chairman Patrick “P.J.” Hogan said 282 is few enough to accommodate the personnel shortage, even though it’s much more than the 162 sites suggested by MAEO.
“I think that would be acceptable to a lot of entities,” Hogan said.
Board Chair Michael Cogan said the numbers would be “a floor, not a ceiling,” meaning local boards could establish more voting sites if they have enough people to serve.
Cogan urged those who decide against serving as an election judge to recruit a friend.
“The satisfaction can be tremendous,” he said. “It is an amazing experience to participate.”
Mail-In off the Table
There was no discussion about asking the governor for permission to hold a mostly mail-in election similar to the June primary or to offer a hybrid mail-in and in-person format.
P.J. Hogan pleaded with fellow board members on Wednesday to make such a recommendation. The board, controlled 3 to 2 by Republicans, appeared to be leaning toward the mail-in plan at Wednesday’s meeting.
On Thursday, Gov. Hogan warned against mail-in voting, saying it would lead to voter suppression and disenfrachisement.
Early in-person voting would begin October 29 and run through Election Day. Unlike the past where citizens were assigned to specific precincts, voters could go to any of the voting centers in their jurisdiction.
SBE has been encouraging voters to request mail-in ballots online in order to limit exposure to the virus.
Register to vote and request a mail-in ballot here. The deadline to request a ballot is October 20.