With the 2020 General Election coming up in a matter of days, we want to ensure that you have the most up to date information as well as ease your stress when it comes to mail-in ballots and drop boxes if you choose to use that form of voting.
The deadline to request a mail-in or an absentee ballot is October 20, but if you forgot to mail-in that request or you missed the deadline entirely, you're not out of luck just yet. All you have to do is go in person to your local board of elections to get the ballot.
From there, you can take the ballot with you or you can vote right there and turn it in at a ballot drop box.
For many people across the country and in Maryland, this may be their first time using a drop box. Nikki Charlson with the Maryland State Board of Elections says they are doing everything possible to ensure that these boxes are not tampered with.
First off, they're very large and heavy objects, made of galvanized steel, they're weatherproofed so the ballots won't get wet and they are under 24 hour, seven day a week surveillance, whether it's cameras or in-person.
"The local election officials are emptying those boxes at least once a day, accounting for them, transporting them back to their local board of elections office for secure storage and processing.," Charlson explained. "So they don't sit there very long and then they're taken back to the local election office. When they're back in the office, there's a big bar code that is on the envelope."
What that bar code does is it makes your ballot show as received in the system.
"That's the data that then we post on the website to show that it's been received. So if you're looking at the voter lookup waiting for your ballot to show received and showing sent, it just means that the local election office hasn't yet scanned up our code," she said. "Once they do that, then the next day the website will show received."
Charlson says that if you put your ballot in one of those drop boxes, your ballot will be in a secure location in the local board office within 24 hours.
The most important thing to see is that it's been received by the local board. So if you're looking at the voter lookup to see whether your ballot's been accepted or not and it still hasn't prior to the election day, have no fear. Once it shows its been received, you know your ballot is in the right hands.
"You can start seeing those accepted probably over the next week as the local boards are starting to count ballots and then making that change in the system," Charlson explained. "So it will be before November 3rd, but that doesn't mean that your ballot will be. Your ballot might be one that is being held, they haven't processed it yet. So not every ballot is going to show accepted before election day, but there will be ballots showing as accepted."
You can also ensure that your ballots safe when using these drop boxes, because the person picking them up is either a local board employee or someone who's a board member or someone who's gone through certain credentials.
Those are the individuals going around every day and emptying the drop boxes and accounting for them.
"It's a sworn election official or it's somebody that's had a criminal background check and has been sworn in by the local board," she said. "So these are trusted people."
Charlson said the most important thing you can do to prepare for election day is to have a plan.
"For a voter who's never voted by mail, just a couple tips, read the instructions, super important to do that, make sure that you put your ballot is inside the envelope, seal the ballot, sign the oath and make sure you get it back in time," Charlson said. "Signing the oath and getting it in on time are the two most common reasons why we can't vote a ballot and we really want to, we want to count everyone's ballot."
Take a step back and figure out how you want to vote. If you want to vote by mail, you have to put your request in by October 20, but as we stated above, you can still go in to your local elections office for a ballot.
Have alternatives planned.
"If your car breaks down or it's raining and you don't want to go out, have another plan. So you have time to vote instead of waiting until election day," she explained.
If you're still wanting to vote in person, whether through early voting or election day, do your research beforehand. You should receive a sample ballot in the mail, but you can also find it on the board of elections website here after putting in your voter information.
Charlson says they recommend you actually mark that ballot and take it with you, so that when you are voting in person, you can be as quick about it as you can.
"We want to keep everybody safe and so the less time you spend inside the voting room, the better," she said.
We want to ensure that you have all of the information possible when preparing to vote in this election, so if you have any additional questions, whether its locating a drop box, finding your polling location or other deadlines, click here.