As voters head to the polls Tuesday, Montgomery County election workers are processing a high volume of returned mail-in ballots and ballots that were cast during early voting.
To be counted, mail-in ballots must be postmarked no later than Tuesday and the oath on the postage-paid return envelope that arrives with the ballot must be signed. Mail-in ballots can also be dropped off at county drop boxes until 8 p.m. on Tuesday, according to the elections board.
As of Monday, the Montgomery County Board of Elections had received a total of 62,543 completed mail-in ballots, according to state election data. The elections board sent out 141,957 mail-in ballots and will accept them until Nov. 18.
A total of 55,942 county residents, or 8.31% of the county’s eligible voters, participated in in-person early voting at 14 county voting centers between Oct. 27 and Nov. 3, according to state election data.
In contrast, 24,704 county residents, or 3.68% of the county’s eligible voters, participated in in-person early voting in the primary, and 74,986 total mail-in ballots were returned.
Voters head to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in local, state and federal races. Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Bethesda Beat toured the Montgomery County Board of Elections headquarters on Friday to watch how a mail-in ballot is processed. Because of a Montgomery County Circuit Court ruling, the Maryland State Board of Elections was given permission to start canvassing mail-in ballots ahead of Election Day this year.
Boris Brajkovic, voter services manager, said the elections board building in Gaithersburg serves as sort of a command center throughout the election process.
“We have 55 drop boxes throughout the county for mail-in ballots. One is located in front of the [Board of Elections] building. The other 54 are placed throughout the county at schools and rec centers. We have bipartisan teams who go out every morning to collect multiple ballots in the drop boxes. They empty the drop boxes in the blue bins, seal them with a security tag, and they follow the chain of custody and hand them over to the building,” Brajkovic said.
These same officials then take empty bins back and do an afternoon run to the drop boxes and bring a second load of ballots back. However, the state only requires one pickup run per day.
“These pairs of people are all different political parties. So it’s never one party,” elections board Secretary David Naimon said.
The U.S. Postal Service also delivers mailed ballots directly to the elections board’s offices.
Before a mail-in ballot can be canvassed, however, it has to be scanned and sorted based on what type of ballot it is since there are dozens of types of ballots based on where a voter lives in the county and where their state and county districts may fall. The Board of Elections has special equipment that can scan a closed ballot envelope and sort it based on type of ballot and precinct.
An election official takes a stack of ballots and inserts them into the machine, which scans and drops the ballots into different slots based on precinct and ballot type.
These sealed ballots are then bundled and moved to the next stage of the process, in which they are canvassed by bipartisan teams with members of the elections board observing. The county Board of Elections has been conducting mail-in ballot canvassing at the Montgomery County fairgrounds in Gaithersburg and will shift its operations to the Montgomery College Germantown campus on Nov. 10.
After the ballots are canvassed, they come back to the elections board offices to be processed again and scanned and to make sure everything matches up. This process is livestreamed on the Board of Elections website for transparency.
Acting Election Director Alysoun McLaughlin said transparency is important for people to have faith in the elections process.
“When I have the opportunity to really talk somebody through their concerns, often that’s what really makes a difference for them when I can explain the process to them or I can show them the reports. For example, if the concern is someone potentially having voted twice, we’re able to track it and to actually prove or disprove the concern. We put a lot of time and processes and very diligent effort in maintaining all of this in order to be able to answer those questions and to prove that people voted [fairly],” McLaughlin said.
The elections board is also storing large lockboxes of completed ballots from in-person early voting, which have been scanned and will be processed for results on Election Day.
County election officials said it’s important for voters to make sure to cast ballots at their assigned polling place on Election Day. While voters could choose any county voting center during early voting, voters must vote at their precinct location Tuesday or they will have to cast a provisional ballot. Voters can confirm their precinct by visiting 777vote.org.
“The biggest reason we see provisional voters is people who go to the polls because they are nervous that we didn’t receive their mail-in ballot,” Naimon said.
Brajkovic said that while the elections board tries to confirm receipt of ballots as quickly as possible, it’s not instantaneous, and just because receipt hasn’t been confirmed doesn’t mean a ballot wasn’t received.
If a voter votes provisionally because they are concerned their mail-in vote was not received, their vote cannot be counted unless the elections board is able to prove through its processes that they did not receive a mail-in ballot from that voter. This goes for any other reason a voter may vote provisionally.
The Montgomery County Board of Elections in Gaithersburg will provide in-person assistance to voters from 7 a.m to 8 p.m. on Election Day.