The St. Mary’s County Board of Elections has now begun canvassing ballots in preparation of Election Day, which is now less than three weeks away, as nearly seven times as many mail-in ballots compared to four years ago have been requested.
According to Wendy Adkins, director of the county’s board of elections, as of Tuesday morning, the county had 74,388 registered voters while in the 2016 general election there were 69,326. The deadline to register to vote in the upcoming election was Oct. 13. For those who have registered, mail-in ballots can still be requested up until Oct. 27 or Oct. 30 for an electronic ballot. Ballots can be mailed or placed in official drop boxes in the county.
The 2016 election had garnered requests for 2,981 absentee ballots but since voting by mail is strongly encouraged this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, mail-in ballot requests total 20,112 so far with “a little over 5,000” returned as of Tuesday, the director shared.
Adkins said the board of elections started canvassing mail-in ballots on Monday, a process which can be observed by the public via video conference. The full canvass schedule is available for viewing on the elections board website, along with the live stream. She confirmed results will not be posted until after Election Day.
The process is “going great,” she said, adding, the board had hired a few temporary employees to help with the volume of work.
“So far we are able to keep up with everything,” she claimed.
While Gov. Larry Hogan (R) originally called for every usual polling location to be open for early voting and Election Day, local officials said they struggled to get enough volunteer election judges to run in-person voting because of the coronavirus pandemic. In turn, the governor approved the Maryland Board of Elections plan to offer 360 in-person voting centers across the state on Election Day. The voting centers, unlike voting precincts, can be used by any voter in a county.
In St. Mary’s County, there are usually 28 polling locations with 36 different election precincts, according to Adkins. This year there will be just seven voting centers on Nov. 3: the Hollywood firehouse, Leonardtown High School, Great Mills High School, Margaret Brent Middle School, Spring Ridge Middle School, Lexington Park Elementary School and Lettie Marshall Dent Elementary School, open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Early voting will be available only at the Hollywood firehouse from Oct. 26 through Nov. 2, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. each of those days
The county elections board announced 11 drop box locations have been approved for the election.
Ballot drop box locations will open in three phases, and all will be available through 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.
Boxes currently open are at Lexington Park library, the Hollywood firehouse, Great Mills High School and the old county board of elections office in Leonardtown. Phase two sites are set to open between Oct. 15 and Oct. 17, and include the Charlotte Hall library, the board of election’s new office, Leonardtown High School, Margaret Brent Middle School and Lexington Park Elementary School. The third and final phase will include boxes opened between Oct. 22 and Oct. 24 at Spring Ridge Middle School and Lettie Marshall Dent Elementary School.
Katie Werner, vice president of the St. Mary’s County League of Women Voters, said there there are several methods one can vote this year and, “It’s important to make a plan.” She mentioned residents can visit vote411.org and enter their address to see who will be on their ballot and how each candidate answered questions.
“Everyone who is eligible should vote,” she said. “It gives you voice in your government” and is a “way to stay engaged.”