Despite being able to start counting mail-in ballots before Election Day, some Maryland elections boards are working right up to and — in come some cases — beyond the Thanksgiving Day holiday to count every last vote, including provisional ballots.
Montgomery County Board of Elections spokesman Gilberto Zelaya called this midterm contest the “eternal election.” He noted that the process for the midterms, going back to the primary, has been an unusually long one for a number of reasons.
Maryland’s primary was pushed back from June 28 to July 19, due to the legal battle over redistricting. Montgomery County then had a recount in the County Executive primary race, and then it was time to gear up for the general election.
More than 500,000 mail-in ballots were cast statewide; this is evidence that adoption of the mail-in ballot is a popular voting method among residents. In 2018, just 5% of the state’s voters chose to cast their ballots by mail, compared to nearly 25% this year.
Canvassing in Montgomery County is scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. If needed, Zelaya said canvassing could go right up to Nov. 29. Along with remaining mail-in ballots, there are 14,000 provisional ballots cast in person.
In Prince George’s County — where 9,000 provisional and more than 14,000 web-mail ballots (those cast by email) are being counted — canvassing has been scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Prince George’s County Board of Elections’ website said the process is so time-consuming because, “Those ballots must be duplicated on to official ballots in order to get scanned.” The ballot-counting process could be extended if needed.
Maryland lawmakers have said that they plan to once again push for a change in state law to allow early processing of mail-in ballots. In the last General Assembly session, state Sen. Cheryl Kagan led the charge to change the law. She was successful, but that law was vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan, who wrote in his veto letter that several provisions in bills to change the law “offer positive changes.” But he expressed concern about security measures, “such as signature verification.”
Kagan said the veto led to what she called “a hot mess,” with a protracted canvassing period that could lead to counts stretching right up against the date for swearing in a number of elected officials.
Kagan vowed to propose legislation to address the issue in the upcoming legislative session in Annapolis that starts Jan. 11.