Amid a surge in early voting in Maryland, Montgomery County officials say they are also dealing with anxiety from voters who submitted mail-in ballots and want to be absolutely certain their votes are counted.
Election officials mailed more than 377,000 ballots to voters in Montgomery County this year — the highest number in the state — as officials encouraged voters to vote by mail to limit in-person contact to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Of those, 252,000 ballots have been received by the board of elections, said Montgomery County Board of Elections spokesperson Gilberto Zelaya during an online news briefing Wednesday.
The issue for anxious voters is that an online system designed to track mail-in ballots still lists those ballots as “received” instead of “accepted.”
Received “means that it’s in our possession,” Zelaya said. “It’s secure; it’s safe. We are in the process of flipping ‘received’ to ‘accepted.'”
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Before a mail-in ballot is listed as “received,” an elections worker checks to make sure the voter has properly signed the oath on the return envelope, he added.
From there, the ballots are canvassed and then tabulated. So far, about 80,000 mail-in ballots have gone through the final step, meaning they’ve actually been counted.
The results are embargoed and won’t be released until after the polls close on Election Day.
Zelaya said the elections board is fielding thousands of calls a day “and a lot of them are about the ‘received’ to ‘accepted’ status.”
He urged voters to remain patient. “If you have submitted your mail-in ballot, and you have received the notification that it’s been received, you are good to go.”
Zelaya said there’s no reason for voters, who are tracking their ballot’s status online and haven’t seen it listed as “accepted” yet, to venture to a vote center and cast a provisional ballot.
He added, “Please don’t … You’re causing lines to be longer and slowing down the process for voters who still need to vote in person.”
Zelaya said election workers are finding few issues with mail-in ballots. So far, 76 ballots that were received by the board of elections did not have the proper signature on the return envelope.
He said the board is working to “cure” those ballots, meaning workers have contacted voters to let them know about the missing signature and coordinated with them to come to the elections board to provide it.
Of the 252,000 received ballots, only five have been rejected, Zelaya said. That’s a rejection rate of about 0.00197%.
If you still have a mail-in ballot at home, you are urged to fill it out with a black ballpoint pen and return it as soon as possible. You can drop it in the mail, or at one of 50 ballot drop-off boxes throughout the county. Don’t forget to sign the voter oath on the back of the envelope.
If you plan to vote in person, Zelaya recommended any time over the next two days to beat the expected crowds this weekend and on the final day of early voting and Election Day voting.
As of Tuesday, more than 46,000 voters in Montgomery County had cast ballots at early voting centers, and more than 300,000 had done so statewide.
Currently, early voting times across the county are averaging less than 10 minutes. “So, it’ll take you longer to walk from your car into the polling room,” he said.
As for whether Montgomery County, and the state as a whole, will be in a position to report the majority of results on Election Day, Zelaya called it “the $1 million question.”
Once polls close in Maryland, the elections board will release results from early voting. Next will come as many of the mail-in ballots as workers have been able to tabulate up to that point. Last will come Election Day results.
“It’s going to be a long night,” Zelaya said. “Patience is a virtue.”