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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