BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Maryland's State Board of Elections expects a record number of people to vote by mail in the closely-watched upcoming presidential election.
Deputy Administrator Nikki Charleson spoke to WJZ as her office began mailing out the first applications for mail-in ballots.
"If you can vote by mail, do so. It is the safest way to vote in a pandemic," she told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. "We are expecting the election as a whole to have very high turnout. Our voters are very engaged."
Charleson rejected criticism from those who say the reduction from 1,600 in-person polling places to 360 larger voting centers could disenfranchise voters.
"By moving predominantly to high schools or large rooms, officials can process more voters, spread out the equipment and allow for social distancing," she said. "In many ways, this is going to expand their ability to process voters instead of reducing it."
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She also said election judges are still needed despite reports that local elections officials are not promptly responding to those who want the jobs.
"The need for election judges has never been more critical. It is always a challenge for the local election boards to get enough judges, and in the midst of a pandemic, that is even more challenging," Charleson said.
She also spoke about the slowdown in the postal service: State election officials have moved back the deadline to request a mail-in ballot by one week to October 20th.
"Monitoring and communicating with the post office is a daily occurrence for us. We are on top of the issue locally as well as on the national level," she said.
She noted voters will be able to place completed mail-in ballots at an expanded number of drop-off boxes statewide "and not rely at all on the post office" if they choose.
The actual ballots will be mailed out to voters starting in late September.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was back in the hot seat, testifying before lawmakers at a House committee hearing Monday.
He told them he would not bring sorting machines back into service. That includes six machines taken offline in the Baltimore area.
Maryland Representative Kweisi Mfume (D-7th District) expressed his concerns at the hearing.
"When the mail slows down, it has a disparate impact on communities, and particularly on communities of color around this country," Mfume told DeJoy.
President Donald Trump again attacked mail-in voting Monday despite requesting a mail-in ballot himself.
"They're going to mail out 80 million ballots. It's impossible. They have no idea. Who's mailing them? Mostly Democrat, Democrat states and Democrat governors. Well, supposing they don't mail them to Republican neighborhoods, that means they're not going to get them. So they're going to complain and the election is going to be over and then they're going to complain, and then they'll say 'Oh well, we didn't get it, big deal.' In the meantime, you might lose the election. This is the greatest scam in the history of politics I think, and I'm talking about beyond our nation," Mr. Trump told supporters.
Last week, he said Americans will likely not know who won on Election Day. President Trump claimed it could be "weeks" before the election is settled.
In Maryland, mail-in ballots can be counted starting October 1, with the results kept secret until after the polls close on November 3.
"The additional months to allow them to start counting means we will not have to wait so long at the end," Charleson said.
She said the state typically takes two weeks after election day to count all of the ballots.
"It is possible that could extend a little longer, but certainly having a month before election day to start counting will help a lot."
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