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Protecting Election 2020 from Covid-19: A Toolkit for Maryland Activists

If the Covid-19 pandemic continues into November, we will need to change our election practices to make sure voters don’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote. We have the solutions to make our elections both safe and accessible to all. And with this toolkit, you will know what reforms your state needs and where to focus your efforts.

Last Updated: August 21, 2020
Published: August 21, 2020

This is part of the Brennan Center’s Toolkits for Activists Across the Nation.

Jump to a section: 
Political Context  |  What's in Place and What’s Needed  |  Key Dates

Administering an election under pandemic conditions requires undertaking steps to keep voting accessible, safe, and secure. The guide below lays out the problems Covid-19 poses, what preparedness measures Maryland has, and what changes are still needed. But first, we offer some political context for your advocacy.


Advocacy Focus: Local Reform

Local officials have a lot of responsibility over elections. They are a great place to focus advocacy efforts. Though state officials can make any of the changes in this toolkit, we highlight some examples of changes that local elections officials can also make with this symbol:🔸


Political Context

Below is a list of the relevant officials and information about the legislative session.

Governor: Larry Hogan (R)  

State Administrator of Elections: Linda Lamone (D)

Legislature: House (D) Senate (D)

Legislative Session: The legislature last adjourned on March 18, 2020. Either the legislature or the governor can call a special legislative session.

Local Elections Officials: In Maryland, local boards of election share responsibilities for administering elections. You can look up individual local boards of elections here.

What Maryland Has and What’s Needed

Three priorities. There are three key areas where we need to shore up our elections systems for success during a pandemic: registration, mail voting, and in-person voting.

Registration

Covid-19 may disrupt the traditional ways Americans register to vote, like get out the vote drives or registering at government agencies. In the crucial weeks before the registration deadline, postal service disruptions may lead many registration forms to arrive at election offices after the deadline.

Preparatory Measures Maryland Already Has Taken:

  • Online voter registration
  • Election Day voter registration

Changes Still Needed:

  • Prepare to extend online and mail voter registration deadlines based on conditions in the state

Voting by Mail

Because of Covid-19, long lines and crowds at the polls pose health risks not seen in previous elections. Allowing every citizen to vote by mail reduces the number of people at the polls on Election Day and decreases the exposure risk to Covid-19.

Preparatory Measures Maryland Already Has Taken:

  • All voters can vote by mail without an excuse
  • Online tool for requesting a mail-in ballot
  • No notary or witness requirement for return of mail ballot
  • No ID requirement to vote by mail
  • Accepts late-arriving mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day
  • Sends mail-in ballot applications to all voters who have not yet applied
  • Provides pre-paid postage for voting by mail

Changes Still Needed:

  • Provide post-election notice and cure opportunity for defects on absentee-ballot envelope, including signature mismatch or missing signatures

In-Person Voting

Even with expanded mail voting opportunity, states cannot close polling places. To do so may disenfranchise voters without Internet and mail access, or those who do not wish to cast a ballot by mail. In-person voting must be done in accordance with health guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Preparatory Measures Maryland Already Has Taken:

  • In-person early voting
  • Vote centers on election day

Changes Still Needed:

  • Ensure sufficient polling places are open and resourced on Election Day🔸
  • Offer additional dates and additional hours for in-person absentee voting at municipal clerks’ offices🔸
  • Take proper public health precautions to ensure safe polling places🔸
  • Hold training sessions for polling-place workers well in advance of Election Day, so that election officials can better anticipate problems with staffing and logistics🔸
  • Increase access to curbside voting at polling locations

Advocacy Focus: Protecting Polling Places

No matter how prepared Maryland is as a matter of policy, elections officials and advocates must stay vigilant about ensuring safe, healthy in-person voting is an option for everyone all the way through Election Day. Here are some important things to know about who makes decisions about polling places in Maryland and what rules govern the process:

  • In a declared state of emergency, the governor may delay an election, alter polling locations, or use an alternative method for voting. Local election boards can also move and create new precincts subject to the approval of the State Board of Elections.🔸
  • The Governor has said that the state will provide necessary PPE for staff and volunteers, and provide direction for the maintenance of public health standards for the operation of polling locations.
  • Neither State nor local boards of election can consider a change in administrative policy affecting voting rights at a meeting unless it was preceded by the publication of a prominent public notice of the change.🔸
  • The State Board of Elections has announced that it will be providing additional ballot drop boxes to local boards of elections, and local boards of elections will have the authority to determine where these ballot drop boxes will be placed.🔸

Key Dates for Maryland Elections

  • October 13, 2020: Deadline to register online or by mail to vote in the General Election
  • October 26-29, 2020: Early voting period for the General Election
  • November 3, 2020: General Election Day