Capital News Service -- Maryland elections officials are encouraging the use of ballot drop boxes as the mail-in deadline approaches, and outlined the safety of the receptacles to state lawmakers earlier this month.
"As reports mount of delayed mail delivery nationwide, drop boxes remain a safe, convenient and reliable way for voters to cast their ballots during the pandemic," according to a Maryland Board of Elections statement this week.
Maryland ballots sent in the U.S. mail must be postmarked no later than Nov. 3 and received by Nov. 13.
"We are closely monitoring reports from the United States Postal Service that delivery times continue to be considerably longer than normal," Maryland State Board of Elections Administrator Linda Lamone said in the Wednesday statement.
Tensions over the 2020 election results are high, especially with the number of people choosing mail-in voting. More than 1.1 million mail-in ballots have been cast so far in Maryland, according to the Board of Elections.
Reliably blue Maryland tends to overwhelmingly vote for Democrats in presidential elections, so while the national election is not closely contested here, the Maryland Board of Elections has still put extensive measures in to make sure everyone's vote is counted.
Maryland has 284 boxes installed around the state — up from 75 during this year's primary elections. They will be open 24/7 until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
"Ballot boxes meet strict manufacturing specifications to guard against tampering. Further, boxes are closely monitored through a variety of means to prevent tampering," a spokesperson for the Board of Elections told Capital News Service.
Security protocols for using and emptying the boxes were sent to all local boards of elections in Maryland, elections officials said. There will be 24/7 surveillance, but some security protocols are not being disclosed, according to the elections spokesperson.
Ballot boxes had to be emptied at least daily through mid-October, and after that twice a day, by a two-person team, Board of Elections Director of Special Projects Tracey Hartman told state lawmakers during an Oct. 2 meeting of the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review.
"There are tamper-tape seals on the boxes that have to be recorded and then new ones are placed and new seal numbers are recorded," she explained. "There are seal numbers on the ballot bin that is inside the box that the ballots fall into and those numbers are recorded. They are re-recorded at the local board when they are delivered and then at the local board the ballots are counted and that number is recorded."
Some lawmakers were concerned about "ballot harvesting," in which voters hand off their completed ballots to another person to submit.
The idea of ballot-harvesting may be an issue, according to Delegate Jason Buckel, R-Allegany, due to the lack of security and verification at drop boxes. There is no way to know who is bringing what ballots to the boxes as IDs are not checked nor are the number of ballots brought by each person, he told Capital News Service after the meeting.
This worry could have been assuaged by additional people at the polls or stationed at drop-box locations, according to Buckel. However there are not enough personnel, Buckel acknowledged.
"It's a resource issue," Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for the elections board, told lawmakers during the meeting. "I don't think that statewide there's going to be enough resources to be able to put a single person (at each box), and they are open 24/7." There may be local personnel at some boxes on Election Day, however, depending upon the location of the box, Charlson told the panel.
Voter intimidation was also a concern for some lawmakers, less so for others.
The election being hotly contested could cause people to resort to protesting or violence at polling places, according to Delegate Sandy Rosenberg, D-Baltimore.
"A concern is if there will be people who come to the polls that would cause a reasonable person to be intimidated," Rosenberg told Capital News Service.
The June primary election was successful, so the concern of fraudulent behavior or other big problems is not major, Delegate Brooke Lierman, D-Baltimore, said.
"Every Marylander should feel safe when casting their vote in this election," Lierman told Capital News Service earlier this month.
Due to the popularity of the boxes, it is likely they will be seen in future elections, Hartman told lawmakers. However, formal regulatory changes will be needed to fine tune use of the boxes, when time is not so limited, officials said.
The state is working on rumor control and false information, and has a web page to refute misinformation.
Security up to and on Election Day is coming primarily from local law enforcement, including some local police at ballot boxes. State police, the state prosecutor, the U.S. Attorney's office, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are among the agencies teaming up to ensure the vote and voters are safe, Lamone said, including the U.S. Postal Service.
"The right to vote is one of the most important rights exercised by Americans," U.S. Attorney Robert Hur said in a statement earlier this week. "We will not tolerate threatening conduct that seeks to intimidate, harass, or dissuade Americans from exercising their right to vote. I urge all Marylanders to report to law enforcement any efforts to infringe on their right or another person's right to vote. If you see something, say something."
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