It's in our salad dressing, bread and most everything else we eat -- and it's doing tremendous harm to our bodies. How can we kick the salt habit?
With the election less than a month away, many still have concerns about voting. Where can I cast my ballot? By what date do I have to send in my mail-in ballot? What safety precautions will my polling place take to keep me safe? How can I make sure my ballot is counted?
We’re answering your questions about the voting process and how you can make sure your ballot is counted in the District, Maryland or Virginia.
Produced by Richard Cunningham
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned into The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. This is the first of our election series. Each Tuesday in October, we'll be covering issues relevant to voters in our region. Today, we're focusing on the logistics of voting during a pandemic. Maryland, Virginia and the District are all aiming to make voting and ballot counting a smooth and safe process, despite many challenges. Election officials also hope to address some of the problems that emerged during the primaries earlier this year. We're answering all of your questions about voting. So, if you have questions, you can call now. Joining us now is Martin Austermuhle, who is a Reporter for WAMU. Martin, thank you for joining us.
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIMartin, what will November's elections look like in D.C.? How are residents voting in the general election?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, I think like it's happening across the country, it's less about November's elections. Like it's not Election Day anymore, but it's being called election season. And the District is a great example of that, because tens of thousands -- hundreds of thousands of voters across the District have started getting ballots in the mail, and ballot drop boxes opened yesterday. So, people have started voting already. They can also drop them back in the mail to get them back in. So, I mean, voting has started in the District for lots of people. Now, of course, they can wait until the end of the month, October 27th is when in-person early voting starts, and then they can also vote on Election Day. But for all intense and purposes, I mean, we are in the midst of voting month, as we speak.
NNAMDIWell, I am broadcasting from home, as I speak to you. I'm looking at my official absentee balloting material from the District of Columbia with the accompanying secrecy sleeve. So, I can simply use that to vote and just drop it in a drop box, right?
AUSTERMUHLEExactly. I mean, that's kind of the beauty of the system. Like there was a lot of fear over the summer over delays with postal service and whether ballots would be delivered on time. So, the District ended up purchasing 55 ballot drop boxes that they've put all over town. They're in front of libraries, government buildings, rec centers, that sort of stuff. These things are hard to miss. They're 400-pound boxes. They're huge. But, yeah, you could vote today. You could walk down. Put it in your drop box and your civic duty is done.
NNAMDIWhat kind of turnout is expected for the general election? And how are election officials preparing for that?
AUSTERMUHLEI think the term that was actually used was record-shattering. I think there's an expectation that because of all of the politics in the country and the kind of partisanship and the polarization that lots of folks are going to come out and vote. Now, the way that people are preparing for it in the District is they're encouraging people, voters, to cast their ballots by mail or vote early, because that's the best way to avoid lines at the polls come Election Day. City officials are saying that no matter what they do, there are going to be lines on Election Day, because there's fewer polling places being used because there's just not as many -- they couldn't find enough places where you can social distance and fit people in to vote. You're going to have lines to keep voters away from each other. You're going to have to clean the voting equipment more frequently. So, if any amount of people actually show up on Election Day, they're being told to expect to stand in line. And, you know, the waits could be hours long. So, it's just one thing that city officials are kind of -- are reminding people that if you're coming to vote, you might wait in line.
NNAMDIMartin, who and what are on the ballot for the November elections in D.C.?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, there's obviously the marquee race, like for the rest of the country. D.C. voters will be deciding who should be the next president. Then there's local races. The D.C. Council, its marquee race is two At-Large seats. There's 23 candidates vying for two seats. So, that's a lot. There's also local elections in Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8. There's elections for the State Board of Education. There's an election for a shadow senator and a shadow rep and a delegate to Congress. And everybody is going to be voting for their Advisory Neighborhood commissioner. Those are the most local of local elected officials. And there is a ballot initiative on magic mushrooms and psychedelic plants. So, you've got a range of things on the D.C. ballot this year.
NNAMDIAlso joining us now is Jessica Bowman, Chief Deputy Commissioner of Virginia's Department of Elections. Jessica Bowman, thank you for joining us.
JESSICA BOWMANThank you, and good afternoon.
NNAMDIGood afternoon to you. What will November elections look like in Virginia? How will residents be voting in the general election?
BOWMANWell, similar to what was said earlier, Virginians are voting right now. We didn't need to wait until November. Early voting started in Virginia on September 18th, in-person. And, as of today, over 390,000 Virginians have taken advantage of that opportunity. Also, by mail, over one million absentee ballots have gone out to Virginians, and over 300,000 of those ballots have already come back. So, as it is in a lot of states, Election Day has already started, and continues every day up until November 3rd.
NNAMDIFor those comfortable voting in-person, it's my understanding Virginia will be opening the usual number of polling places. How will that work, given the challenges of doing so during a pandemic?
BOWMANYes, you are correct. If people would like to vote on Election Day, their polling place will be open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. We have done a massive poll worker recruitment effort, and it's been great to see young people step up to the plate to volunteer to work the polls. Social distancing will -- measures will be in place. We have partnered with a Virginia Medical Reserve Corps to be there at polling places to help make sure that everyone is being safe and that sanitation procedures are being followed, all local election offices have been provided with PPE. So, if people want to vote on Election Day, and that is, you know, absolutely their right and we welcome them to vote on Election Day. We just encourage them to wear a mask and prepare to wait in line, as I'm sure it will be a busy day.
NNAMDIIn August, the ACLU of Virginia filed a lawsuit against the Virginia State Board of Elections about requiring a witness's signature to submit an absentee ballot. Will voters need a witness's signature to vote absentee?
BOWMANSo, given the litigation that you just stated and then a General Assembly change that was made in their special session that they are currently in, if voters do not feel that they can obtain a witness signature safely, they do not need to do so. Not having a witness signature will not invalidate your absentee ballot.
NNAMDIIn addition to the presidential candidates, Jessica Bowman, who else is on the ballot, statewide, in Virginia?
BOWMANSo, statewide, the only other initiatives that will be on everyone's ballot is two state constitutional amendments, one dealing with redistricting, and one dealing with a tax issue. And then, all across the Commonwealth, there are congressional races, local Board of Supervisors, City Council, town mayors. And then also a slew of local referendums dealing everything from taxes to casinos.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Bennet Leckrone. He's a Reporter with Maryland Matters. He's also a Member of Report for America. Bennett, thank you for joining us.
BENNETT LECKRONEGlad to be here.
NNAMDIBennett, what will November elections look like in Maryland? How are voters casting their ballots?
LECKRONESo, Marylanders can apply for a mail-in ballot or vote in-person. Of course, I think more than a million Marylanders have applied for a mail-in ballot so far and started getting those ballots in late September. They'll have to submit them by Election Day. They’ll need to be postmarked by Election Day, and, like in D.C., they can submit their ballots at drop-off boxes located around the state. There's roughly 270 -- more than 270 ballot boxes around the state. They can also vote in-person, but it's important to note that their polling locations will be different than previous years. The Maryland State Board of Elections approved a plan for more than 300 larger, more consolidated in-person voting centers on November 3rd to allow for more social distancing and to deal with a shortage of poll workers.
NNAMDIHere's Rose Marie in Bethesda, Maryland. Rose Marie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROSE MARIEYes. Thank you for taking my call. I wanted to mention that both my husband and I sent in Maryland mail-in voting applications in early September, September the 4th. My husband has just received his ballot, but mine has not come. And I have tried calling both Montgomery County Board of Elections and the Maryland Board of Elections. And they are experiencing very high traffic. I've done that yesterday and today. And they say that they will call you back after a short wait. Well, they didn't say short wait. But after a wait, rather than waiting, than they will call you back. I have still not received any calls from them. And I'm really just wondering what to do, whether to go and mail in-person. I don't even really know how to request another ballot, because that isn't really made that clear as to how to do it on any of their sites. So, I just feel I need some help with this.
NNAMDIBennett Leckrone, can you offer some advice?
LECKRONESo, if you go to elections.maryland.gov, they do have an online voter lookup system, and you can see if they've received or processed your ballot. An important thing to note is that if all else fails, you can still go to an in-person voting center on Election Day or on early voting, which is between October 26th and November 2nd. You'll be able to submit a provisional ballot. Maryland officials recently sort of changed the regulation just for this election to allow for someone who received a mail-in ballot to vote provisional. If they receive both of your ballots, they will reject the provisional and only count the mail-in ballot. But if all else fails, you can still go and submit a provisional ballot at an in-person voting center.
NNAMDIRose Marie, thank you for your call, and good luck to you. We received a tweet from Laurel, who said, "I voted in Montgomery County, super-easy at a local high school. There was a friendly guard standing by. It took maybe a minute." Bennett Leckrone, there are two statewide initiatives in Maryland. What are they and what should voters know about them?
LECKRONESo, question one is an amendment to the Maryland Constitution that would give the General Assembly more power over the budget process. It would allow lawmakers to increase, decrease and move money around in the state budget, as long as they don't exceed the governor's budget cap. Under the current century-old rules, lawmakers can generally only reduce or eliminate the governor's budgetary appropriations. So, it would just give the General Assembly more power over the budget. For question two, this referendum would allow the General Assembly to pass legislation that would allow the State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission to issue sports betting licenses. Specifics on how sports betting would work, for instance, if you can bet on college sports, if you can use an app, would largely be up to the legislature. So, if that resolution passes, we can expect to see some of those specifics come to light in the next session.
NNAMDIHere is Lisa in Potomac. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LISAYes, hi. I just wanted to point out something about actually mail-in ballots, which in the State of Maryland, there's actually two types of ballots for mail-in. We could have ordered one electronically, and then you have one that is mailed to you. And they are done, and the processes of submitting are very different. And I'm not sure how much that's been communicated. So, my husband and I actually had ordered the e-ballots, which is emailed to you and then downloaded and printed yourself. But it does not come with postage, and it does not come with an envelope. And you have to sign a declaration sheet that has to be included with it, as opposed to the mail-in ballot, which comes with postage and an envelope.
LISASo just to -- people should be aware of that, because they are very different and easy to make mistakes.
NNAMDIThank you for sharing that. We're going to take a short break. Bennet Leckrone will confirm that when we come back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about how to vote during a pandemic in this region. We're talking with Martin Austermuhle. He's a Reporter for WAMU. Jessica Bowman is Chief Deputy Commissioner of Virginia's Department of Elections, and Bennett Leckrone is a Reporter with Maryland Matters. He's also a Member of Report for America. Bennett, when we went to that break, Lisa was talking about the option that she chose. Was she essentially correct?
LECKRONEYes. She is correct. You will have to provide your own postage if you request an email ballot. You can still submit it at a drop box or in person at a local Board of Elections. But it's important to note that if you're still waiting to request a mail-in ballot, of course, email is absolutely an option. But State Election officials are requesting that people use the mail-in version, since the email ballots have to be hand copied by a bipartisan team onto ballot that can be processed.
NNAMDIAnd, Jessica Bowman, we got an email from Pat, who asks, "When does Virginia begin counting the mailed-in ballots?"
BOWMANSo, the answer depends on the locality. We are fortunate that we are not one of those states that has to wait until Election Day to begin counting. Localities can begin counting now, but that depends on locality.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle, we talked about voters like me in the District of Columbia who received our mail-in ballots. If you got a ballot in the mail, can you still vote in-person?
AUSTERMUHLEYeah. You can actually go vote in-person. I mean, they have an e-poll book system that's linked to the city's, kind of, voter registry. So, basically, if you cast a mail ballot it will enter the system. It will be tracked. You can see when it's received or not. But the point is that the city will know, "Hey, this person sent in a mail ballot." So, if you showed up on Election Day and you wanted to vote, the poll book would reflect that. It would say, "Well, Kojo Nnamdi actually voted by mail. So, we're not going to let you enter the polling place to vote." And the same in reverse, that if you go to a polling place for early voting and you cast your vote there and there's also a mail-in ballot that is on its way to the Board of Elections, it will catch that. So, any hopes of people kind of trying to beat the system, probably not going to work.
NNAMDIGot an email from Gere, who said, "I had almost no problem submitting my ballot. I live in Southwest. I tried to use the drop off box location at 425 M Street, but the library at that location is closed and there is no drop-off box outside. I went to a nearby post office, instead. Glad I had time to easily adjust. Do not wait till the last minute." I suspect that is good advice. Martin, D.C.'s primary voting did not go entirely smoothly in June, despite a much smaller percentage of people voting. What happened?
AUSTERMUHLESo, instead of sending everybody a ballot proactively like they're doing this time around, back in June, they were asking everybody to request an absentee ballot. Now, about 90,000 people did, and that already was a strain on the city, because they had never seen that amount of requests. But they processed those. But then you still had the sorts of people who didn't know that absentee voting was an option for them or didn't want to do it. So, they just showed up in-person. Now, there's early voting. But early voting, it's kind of strange. Sometimes it can be a ghost town in those voting places during early voting, but then come Election Day, that's when people come out, because it's what they're used to. So, essentially, there were only 20 polling places open on June 2nd for the primary. Usually, there are 144. So, a huge decrease in the number of polling places. There was social distancing in place. They were cleaning the voting machines. They were letting only a certain amount of people into the polling places. So, effectively, you ended up with long, long lines. I mean, it was only about 35,000 people that actually voted in-person. But the lines were up to five hours long on Election Day itself, and I think the election actually ran over into the day after. I mean, the last vote was at something like 1:30 in the morning on the day after the primary.
NNAMDIWell, we're expecting a much bigger turnout in the general election. So, how are election officials working to overcome the issues that you just described, that we saw in June?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, there's the first thing that they're mailing everybody a ballot. So, I think they're hoping that more people could use that as an option. They're also just encouraging everybody to vote by mail or vote early to really plan this out and not assume that they can show up at their favorite polling place on Election Day and just cast the ballot. But for Election Day, they've also increased the number of polling places. There's going to be 95 polling places across town, including six what they're calling Super Vote Centers, which are basically just very big spaces with many more voting machines that can accommodate many more voters. You've probably heard of these. There's the Capital One Arena. There's Nats Park. There Entertainment and Sports Arena. There's a couple of hotel ballrooms. So, I think their idea is, we're going to have more polling places than we did in the primary. We're going to have some much bigger polling places than we had -- we've ever had before. But we're still going to encourage people if you can vote early, vote early. If you can vote by mail, vote by mail, because regardless, you will probably run into a line on Election Day.
NNAMDIHere's Rashid, in Great Falls. Rashid, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RASHID (CALLER0Hi, Kojo. This is Rashid Chotani. I'm a public health physician and an infectious disease epidemiologist. And one of the things that I would like to encourage people to do is to vote by mail. And there are multiple reasons behind it. First of all, I work on COVID, so I know what's going on, and I work on influenza. And what we are afraid of is that there will be a surge during late October-November, and that is the time that we see influenza also surging. So, in order for people to be safe and the communities to be safe, it is not going to be very advisable for them to be not social distancing. And, yes, the Election Bureau is going to make sure that people are keeping the distance. But, you know, in social gatherings and all that, it's very difficult to do. So, if possible, vote through mail. And I'll take, you know, comments off the air.
NNAMDIBennett, for the primary, Maryland election officials mailed ballots to every registered voter. They decided not to do that for the general election. Why not?
LECKRONESo, there were some issues with ballot applications being mailed to every voter. And while the vast majority -- I believe 96 percent -- were delivered correctly, there were some delays, some sent to old addresses. And Governor Hogan said that he was required to essentially open the polls and conduct a normal election for the November election by law, which was part of why he decided to go with ballot applications to every Marylander -- or registered voter, I should say -- instead of just mailing a ballot, as in the primary.
NNAMDIAnd what's the process for voting absentee or by mail for the general election? Bennett, what do voters need to do?
LECKRONESo, they can request a ballot online. Again, if they request an emailed ballot, they will need to pay for their own postage or drop it off at a drop-off box. They can also request a ballot by mail. When the ballot comes, they will fill it out, sort of firm sign, make sure everything is okay. And then they can submit it at a drop off box at an in-person voting center. They can go there and submit it. Or they can return it by mail. The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is October 20th. And the local Boards of Elections will have to receive your application by then, not just have it in the mail. The deadline to have a mail-in ballot in Maryland postmarked is November 3rd, and it must be received by your local Board of Elections by November 13th.
NNAMDIThe governor got some criticism for not sending out ballots to registered voters for the general election. What was the reasoning behind that?
LECKRONESo, a lot of voting rights advocates and lawmakers in Maryland really worried that the switch from automatically receiving a ballot June to receiving an application for a ballot for this upcoming election would confuse voters, and they had to do quite a massive voter education campaign about that. And there were calls right up until very recently for the governor to reverse his decision and send every registered voter in Maryland a mail-in ballot.
NNAMDIAnd that, of course, has not happened. In about the minute we have left in this segment, we got an email from Elisa, Jessica Bowman, who writes: I requested and received my ballot in Arlington. I mailed it back three weeks ago, but last night, when I checked Virginia's ballot tracking system, it says that they have only received my application, not that they have mailed it out or that they have received my completed ballot. When I check Arlington’s absentee ballot tracker, it says that they have no record of me as a voter, even though I've been voting in Arlington since 2000. What gives? What should I do? What should Elisa do, Jessica Bowman?
BOWMANI will say that is a bit odd, and we would encourage Elisa to contact her local general registrar's office in Arlington to get to the bottom of that issue. But, you know, it's good that she has gotten her ballot and send it back in a fast fashion.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about how voting is taking place in this region during this pandemic. We're talking with Martin Austermuhle. He's a Reporter at WAMU. Bennett Leckrone is a Reporter with Maryland Matters. He's also a Member of Report for America. And Jessica Bowman is Chief Deputy Commissioner of Virginia's Department of Elections. We're taking your calls. Jay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAYHi, Kojo. Appreciate you taking my call. And my question is that we went to Fairfax County Government Center to vote yesterday and stood in line for about two-and-a-half hours to vote. When we did get to the end of the line to vote, we were given three choices, because they said, "Where is your mail-in ballot?" which we had requested. Me and my wife did not have our mail-in ballots, but she was asked three choices, that you could either mail them in -- all three of those choices were mail them in, and the fourth was a provisional ballot. And the provisional ballot, she went ahead and signed an orange piece of paper to vote provisionally.
JAYBut we don’t know what happens to the provisional ballot, because what they said was the provisional ballots, Fairfax County would count it after the election on November 3rd. So, the thing is that, if you vote is anonymous, and that ballot doesn’t have any markings on it that say provisional or not, it just says the precinct, 11th precinct that we’re in, how do they know not to count it after the fact? Or is that they are all provisional? Because it doesn’t make any sense. I came back and voted. I brought my ballot back, and then I was able to trade that ballot in by writing “spoiled” on it, and then they let me vote normally. But it wasn’t any different than what she did.
NNAMDIWhat's going on there, Jessica Bowman? Do you know?
BOWMANSure. So, if people get their absentee ballots and decide they want to vote in person, we do encourage them to bring their ballots with them so they can be spoiled and traded in. If someone votes provisionally, those votes are usually put in green envelopes, and they are counted after Election Day. But as long as you do not try to send in your absentee ballot, also, it will be counted. If you did sign a gold form and -- you should've been -- you know, you could've voted a regular ballot and then put that ballot through the machine.
BOWMANSo, I can't really decipher which of those occurred, but we do encourage people, if you get your absentee ballot and you change your mind because you really do want to watch your ballot go through the machine, please take it with you. You can also go to your registrar's office and drop your absentee ballot off if you, you know, don't trust USPS or want to ensure it gets there, you're more than welcome to hand deliver that ballot, as well.
NNAMDIJay, thank you very much for your call and good luck to you. We got an email from Jason: Have DMV officials made public statements about how they will certify results and when? I am concerned that a candidate may declare victory before results are actually known. What do we know about this, Martin Austermuhle?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, the thing is, I think there's been this misconception in the United States, and part of that is fueled by the way we report on elections, is that on Election Night, that's when the winner is declared. In most cases, that's what happens. I mean, someone is 20 points ahead, you can pretty safely say this person won the race. But there's a whole process that happens after that, and we just brought -- well, the last caller brought it up, the issued provisional ballots.
AUSTERMUHLEI mean, there's an order in which they count ballots, and provisional ballots kind of come towards the end of it, but they're still counted. And that happens for days after Election Day. So, in a really close race in normal election cycles, you're still technically waiting up to a week, more than a week before final tallies are released and the election is certified and there's actually a victor that can legally say, I have won this election.
AUSTERMUHLEThis year won't be any different. There's going to be -- that process still exists, I think the difference being that there are going to be a lot more ballots coming in by mail. Now, all the jurisdictions in the region are going to be tabulating these ballots as they come in. They don't have to wait until after the polls close, so they should be okay. But there's other parts of the country where if they can't start voting until Election Day, the ultimate results could be waiting for a while.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Ray, who writes: After the president tells his supporters to be unauthorized poll watchers, I'm reminded of Ruby Nell Bridges trying to get into school in a hostile setting. How is this kind of suggestion entertained? What's in place to prevent riots and votes to be lost? And here expressing a similar kind of concern is Carol in Arlington, Virginia. Carol, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAROLHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I was calling to see why the state governors, especially in those states with a Democratic governor, aren't utilizing the National Guard as a way of ensuring safety and security at the poll sites, in addition to perhaps assisting with counting the ballots and whatnot.
NNAMDIHas there been any talk of that in Virginia, Jessica Bowman? Because as our previous emailer said, the president is asking for what would be unauthorized poll watchers.
BOWMANI thank you for the question. You know, here at the Department of Elections, we do work with federal and local partners on election security, both cyber security and physical security. We want everyone to feel safe and secure when they vote. So, we have been in touch with federal and local agencies. And, you know, we'll take precautions to ensure everyone is safe and secure when they cast their ballot.
NNAMDIBennett Leckrone, the primary went relatively smoothly in Maryland, so let's move on to the general. What kind of turnout is expected, and what are possible issues for the November election in Maryland?
LECKRONESo, officials expect very high turnout. As I mentioned earlier, there's already been more than a million mail-in ballots requested. And they've budgeted for 5.6 million in postage just for the application requests, and another 5.5 million for the mail-in ballots. So, they do expect very high turnout, as the primary election, which also saw high turnout.
LECKRONEI think that one thing that officials are worried about is people waiting until Election Day and showing up to the voting centers. And while those centers are bigger and are meant to accommodate larger crowds, some of them are even, like, in Camden Yards in Baltimore.
LECKRONEBut the point is, they want people to take advantage of early voting when they can and take advantage of mail-in ballots to avoid crowding the polls on Election Day. And while social distancing will be in effect, you know, there's still a lot of risk with everybody showing up on one day. So, they just want people to sort of take advantage of those other voting opportunities, as well.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle, Pat emails: I live in Northwest D.C. and there are many people in my building who do not have cars and who depend on public transportation. I want to know if I can take their absentee ballots to the drop off box for them. Martin?
AUSTERMUHLEThat is allowed. I asked a couple weeks ago, only because I'd gotten questions from listeners and readers about, let's say, my elderly mother who really doesn't want to go out of the house, even just to get to a drop box, can I take a ballot for her? Yes, you can do that. I think, obviously, if you're, you know, lugging around bags of ballots, that may get some looks from people, (laugh) but generally speaking, if you're dropping off the ballots, it should be perfectly fine.
AUSTERMUHLEBecause, again, the ballots come enclosed in an envelope that has to be sealed. It has to be signed and dated by the voter, too, proving it is their ballot. And that's what's checked when it gets to the Board of Elections. So, I mean, again, yes, there is a possibility that anybody could, you know, collect a bunch of ballots, fill them out themselves and, like, try to pass it off as lots of votes on their behalf. But there's also a lot of ways that they could get caught doing that. But, yeah, you can take ballots for other people to a drop box.
NNAMDIHere's Mary in Arlington, Virginia. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYGood morning, Kojo. I just wanted to let you know about our experience in Arlington. I'm with a group that offers rides to Arlington Democrats to vote. And this summer, we called about 2,000 seniors and asked them what their plan was. And most of them wanted to vote by mail, because they want it to be safe.
MARYBut now when we're following up to offer them a ride, they're very -- or to see if they need any other sort of assistance, they are, many of them, saying they are too frightened by sort of the propaganda that's -- misinformation that's out there about voting by mail. And they want rides from us to drop boxes or to vote early in person. And, on the one hand, we're so glad that we're available to take them to vote in person if they need to early or on Election Day, but we're also feeling really super-proud of Arlington for making so many ballot drop boxes available, because these seniors are really, really wanting to vote, but they are not feeling safe voting the way they intended to earlier in the summertime.
NNAMDIWell, thank you for sharing that with us, Mary. Good for Arlington. Jessica Bowman, many experts predict that results won't be available on Election Night in Virginia because of the historic number of mail-in ballots. What's being put in place in Virginia to try to accelerate counting the votes?
BOWMANSo, I think that is a question that's on everyone's mind. And while we want results out there and we want it fast, we also need to make sure it is accurate and done appropriately. So, like I stated earlier, localities can start processing ballots early, and many localities are doing that. That is something that not a lot of localities do in a normal election year, maybe just big localities such as Fairfax County. But we have localities doing that all across the Commonwealth that will hopefully, you know, speed up the results on Election Night.
BOWMANAlso, if you have an absentee ballot, the quicker you get it back, the quicker it can be counted. Having a huge influx of absentee ballots come in the day before Election Day, you know, people can only count ballots so fast. So, that could slow up the process. And then a new law this year, which has never happened in the Commonwealth, allows local election officials to accept absentee ballots up until Friday at noon after Election Day, if they are postmarked on Election Day or prior to.
BOWMANSo, those results can change. They have always been unofficial. That is nothing new, but accepting ballots after Election Day is new and, you know, voters should take that into account when watching the news or Election Night results page on Election Night.
NNAMDIHere now is Daphne in Ellicott City. Daphne, your turn.
DAPHNEHi. Thanks for taking my call. I mailed my request for a ballot in early September, but have yet to receive it. And I was aware that -- or I've heard that they've been mailed out, but was unsure of that.
NNAMDICan you offer any advice, Bennett Leckrone?
LECKRONESo, ballot printing began in late September, so I believe that last week and the week before was sort of the very start of voters who requested a ballot receiving their ballot. Give it a little bit more time. Again, you can go to elections.Maryland.gov with their voter lookup system and see if your ballot application has been processed. And then contact your local board if you still don't receive it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Daphne. Good luck to you. Bennett, what's Maryland's plan to get ballots counted, and can they start counting before Election Day?
LECKRONEYeah, a lot of the big jurisdictions are taking advantage of the State Board of Elections allowing them to start the ballot canvas on October 1st. I know that Montgomery County is even starting today. So, it's important to note, though, that ballot counting won't be available or public until 8:00 p.m. on Election Night, November 3rd.
LECKRONESo, those results are embargoed, but that will help local boards of elections sort of process those applications and process those mail-in ballots. The state also worked with the Department of Motor Vehicles to sort of set up a processing center to help the local boards deal with the volume that's expected with those mail-in ballots.
NNAMDIAnd, Jessica Bowman, Maria in Mount Vernon wants to know whether all votes, not just those cast on Election Day, will be reported in vote totals announced on Election Day. Do you have an answer for that?
BOWMANWe are working to finalize what Election Night results will look like. We hope to provide more data than we have in the past, and that will be coming out in the next week or so.
NNAMDIMaria also wants answers from the District and Maryland, Martin: Given the much bigger proportion of absentee and mail-in ballots and it's not clear when ballots will be counted and winners declared, what's the District's plan to ensure ballots are counted in a timely fashion? And when can the counting begin?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, the counting is going to start beginning as the ballots come in. So, if you already got your mail-in ballot from the city and you dropped it off at a drop box, it'll be picked up -- they'll be picking up twice a day. Once it gets to their central facility, they can start the process of actually processing your ballot. They can take it out of the ballot that -- out of the envelope, that sort of stuff.
AUSTERMUHLESo, essentially, what I was told they do is that they process all the ballots as they come in. They don't press that one button that essentially shoots out the election results. That has to wait until after election -- after polls close on Election Night itself. But, basically, it's a rolling process so that come Election Night, you know, polls close, they can have early vote tallies, they can have absentee ballots -- most absentee ballots that came in already, they can have those counted. And then they can quickly get the day-of results.
AUSTERMUHLEThat being said, again, with any close election, you know, there could be a couple days that additional absentee ballots are coming in, because they have to be postmarked by Election Day, but they have ten days to get to the Board of Elections itself. So, if you have a really close race, you could be waiting up to two weeks to see who actually wins it.
NNAMDIWhoa. Here now is Jeff in Severna Park. Jeff, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JEFFYeah, hi. Thanks for taking my call. I just heard in the previous segment a gentleman from Maryland saying there's a shortage of poll workers. I had applied online some time ago to work polls in Maryland and hadn't heard anything. I called my local county Board of Elections, but the line is busy. And similar to the previous caller, I didn't receive a callback. So, what should I do?
NNAMDICan you help, Bennett Leckrone?
LECKRONESo, the good news is that since the switch to limited in-person voting centers, as opposed to neighborhood polling places, now local boards have enough election judges. That's important to know. Have enough election judges and are even working to build up a reserve. They're still saying that you should apply, though, so -- and that was an issue early on, is that people were applying and not hearing back. They're always looking for bilingual election judges. A lot of larger jurisdictions always need Republican election judges. So, I would suggest reaching out again and just seeing what your local board needs.
NNAMDIBennett, Maryland State election administrator said in July, the state needed about $20 million more to have a smooth election. Has additional funding been allocated, and where would that money be going?
LECKRONESo, yes, they did receive that money according to Deputy Elections Administrator Nikki Charlson. She told lawmakers last week that the Department of Budget and Management did allocate them that money. That money sort of varied based on where it was going. I know that there was 1.5 million allocated to personal protective equipment, 5.6 million for ballot applications alone, roughly 5.5 million for mail-in ballots and additional appropriations just to make sure the election runs smoothly. But they have received that money.
NNAMDIWell, Neal tweets: I used a drop box at Spring Brook High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was so easy. I think I want to vote this way from now on, though I will miss the ritual of standing in line and getting my “I Voted” sticker. Well, you need to know, Neal, that with my mail-in ballot that came from the District of Columbia, there's an “I Voted” sticker on the ballot -- on the envelope. So, check your envelope. You may have an “I Voted” sticker somewhere there. Here now to Judy in Bethesda. Judy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JUDYYes, hi. I wanted for amplify to the lady who called who didn't get a ballot, but her husband did, or vice versa. My husband and I went through the same thing. We applied at the same time, in fact, I think he applied a little bit after me for an absentee ballot. His came, mine didn't, mine didn't, mine didn't. I waited for an hour and a half when I called, and eventually, they told me, wait, be patient, it'll come. Wait a week, wait two weeks. If it doesn't happen, you can vote in-person, blah, blah, blah.
JUDYSo, I waited, and guess what? A week and a half later, it really did arrive. So, I think we have to be patient and don't waste the time of the people in the board of elections calling them. If we've applied for a ballot, you can check your status. I didn't find anything very helpful. All it did was say it was registered. I don't remember finding that it said they had my request. But, nevertheless, be patient. If you've applied, chances are it will arrive. And if it doesn't then you can go vote in person, provisionally. But I think we have to be patient. They're drowning and hopefully this will be a huge turnout and things will happen the way they happen.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call and your experience. Here is Isabelle, in Burke. Isabelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ISABELLEHi. Good afternoon. I'm wondering if I can hand-carry my absentee ballot to my polling location on Election Day. And, will a separate line or drop box be made available to us so we don't have to stand in these long lines?
BOWMANYes. You can take your absentee ballot to your polling place on Election Day. There should be signage to show you where to drop it off, so you're not standing in the same line as people voting in person. However, I will encourage you to turn it in before Election Day, so that it can get processed and get counted as soon as possible.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle, the District announced, as you mentioned earlier, that it'll be using supercenters for voting, huge venues like Capital One Arena, Nationals Park, the idea, obviously, to ease crowding, given concerns about coronavirus. But exactly who can vote in those locations?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, that’s the beauty of the way they set it up. This year is that not just the early voting centers, which there's going to be 32 opening on October 27th, but also on Election Day, the 95 vote centers that they'll have across the city, is that anybody can vote at any of them. So, if you really want to cast a ballot at Nationals Park because, hey, no one's ever voted at Nationals Park before, you can, no matter where you live.
AUSTERMUHLEThe traditional system has always been at a polling place lines up with -- or is linked to where you live. So, your address is going to, you know, coincide with a specific polling place. But since they're not opening all 144 polling places, they decided to kind of open it up to everybody. Now, early voting has always been a fair game, so you could vote at any of the sites but now it applies on Election Day, too. So, look, if you really think it's going to be cool to vote at Nats Park or the Capital One Arena, you absolutely can.
NNAMDIWards 7 and 8 had some very long lines during the primary. Any of these super voting centers in either of those wards?
AUSTERMUHLEYeah, so there was a story there that initially the Entertainment Sports Arena, that's the home of the Washington Mystics, which is east of the river in ward 8, it's the biggest facility east of the river, but it wasn't set up to be -- it wasn't going to be used as a super vote center. Because Events D.C. which runs it said, listen, we have some other programming kind of around those dates, so it's not going to be available.
AUSTERMUHLEWell, a Washington Post reporter did a great story about that fact, and there was a lot of bad press for Events D.C. So, they essentially reversed their position and it is now going to be a super vote center. But what the city had also done before this kind of brouhaha is that they're opening more vote centers and having more ballot drop boxes in Wards 7 and 8 because of historic concerns of both mail service, but also traditionally speaking, people that vote -- in higher percentages vote in person and vote on Election Day.
NNAMDIHere now is Mary in Fairfax. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYHi. I think my question was somewhat addressed. My question is about when an absentee ballot that is put into a drop box, not the mailbox, is actually fed into -- read by the tally machine, and then tally -- you know, I understand that the numbers aren't made public, but is my ballot actually tallied the day or within a short period of time that it's dropped into that box, as opposed to waiting until the polls actually close?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, the way the District is doing it is that they'll pick up ballots from these drop boxes twice a day. They take them to one central facility, and my understanding is that they start processing them pretty much right away. Because I think there's a recognition that if they just let them pile up, they'd literally have tens of thousands of ballots to run through these machines. And these machines can process lots of ballots, but it makes more sense. And they're allowed to run them through as they get them in.
AUSTERMUHLENow, again, as I said earlier, they're not going to be running them through a machine and then, like, having a running tally of who's winning the election kind of before the actual Election Day. They're going to wait until polls close on Election Day, and then they can press the button and the machine will spit out the actual results. But, yeah, they'll be processing them as they come in.
NNAMDIJessica Bowman, voting in person still requires going into a small booth and touching equipment others have used. What's being done to ensure all voting centers are sanitized, safe? And what's that going to cost over and above a normal election?
BOWMANSo, Virginia does have all papers ballots so you are not touching a touch screen when you go vote in the Commonwealth. Many localities have disposable pens that you will take with you once you vote. You can take it out the door, or you'll put it in a tray, and it will be sanitized at a later time. Once again, we've partnered with the Medical Reserve Corp to help us with sanitation procedures. And the Commonwealth did spend some Cares Act funding on PPE, including sanitizer and cleaning equipment for localities.
NNAMDIAnd we're going to have to assume that the same is going to be taking place both in Maryland and the District, because we're out of time. Martin Austermuhle, Bennett Leckrone, Jessica Bowman, thank you all for joining us. Today's show was the first in our series on voting during the pandemic. It was produced by Richard Cunningham.
NNAMDIYou can now download the latest episode of "51st," WAMU's podcast on the District's fight for statehood. You'll hear yours truly on that episode. Host Mikaela Lefrak interviews me about black power and the civil rights movement, which were in full swing when I arrived in Washington in 1969. You can find "51st" on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow, parenting changed dramatically when the pandemic began, and schools shifted to a laptop at home. So how are parents faring more than six months into all this? We speak with a panel of experts who offer advice on how to best deal with the burnout, chaos and uncertainty of everything. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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