MARYLAND — Although early voting begins Thursday and the July 19 election is two weeks off, Maryland’s primary has really been well underway for several weeks.
About a half-million voters have already received their ballots by mail or online — and millions more have received sample ballots or other information about what to do come primary day.
But in an unusual year in which the voting is later than normal and district lines have switched, hiccups have already popped up.
“Sample Ballot Alert!!!” read the notice on the Prince George’s County Board of Elections website informing residents that roughly 10,000 incorrect sample ballots — not actual ballots — were mailed to county voters.
“Ensuring that voters receive the most updated and correct information is our top priority,” the June 21 statement said, noting that elections staff was “working diligently to get the sample ballots reprinted” and mailed.
Election boards for Queen Anne’s County and Calvert County posted similar notices of a “technical issue” leading to faulty sample ballots that were being corrected. Those did not mention the number affected, but State Board of Elections Deputy Administrator Nikki Charlson said 32,000 sample ballots in Calvert and 17,788 sample ballots in Queen Anne’s were affected.
Elsewhere, elections officials have notified voters who received incorrect mail-in ballots that they otherwise would have used to vote. A total of 2,328 incorrect mail-in ballots were sent out across the state, including about 830 in Baltimore County and about 750 in Baltimore City, Charlson said.
“The important thing is we’ve identified the issues, they’ve been resolved, and the voters have or will be getting the corrected ballots,” she said.
The issue, she said, is a result of this year’s redistricting, the once-a-decade process in which all kinds of political districts are redrawn based on the latest U.S. census.
The process this year in Maryland was complicated by lawsuits and accusations of political gerrymandering, and new maps were not finalized until April. The primary was delayed from June 28 to July 19.
It also came on the heels of a two-year period in which some voters’ confidence in elections has been shaken. Former President Donald Trump and his allies have falsely maintained that the 2020 presidential election was riddled with fraud, for which there has been no evidence. Still, polls have shown a majority of Republican voters believe there was widespread fraud.
Bruce Luchansky, the Republican chairman of the Baltimore City Board of Elections, said he believes there have been legitimate reasons to investigate elections conducted in other jurisdictions, but he does not doubt the accuracy of Maryland’s elections.
“I see no reason for Maryland voters to lack confidence in the propriety of the election,” Luchansky said.
And in a redistricting year with changes across millions of voter files, it’s not surprising there have been some errors so far, officials said.
“It happens every redistricting process,” Charlson said.
She said the state has assisted local election officials in reviewing the street records for all 4.1 million registered voters to identify whether they’ve been placed in the wrong legislative or congressional district.
As of the end of June, roughly 5,000 households representing about 15,000 voters had been identified as being assigned to an incorrect district, Charlson said. That’s less than one-tenth of 1 percent of state voters.
The roughly 750 actual mail-in ballots sent out incorrectly in Baltimore City as a result of that issue was less than 2% of the nearly 41,000 mail-in ballots requested there as of June 30. There are nearly 400,000 total registered voters in the city.
The roughly 830 sent out in Baltimore County were about 1.2% of the 61,760 ballots requested. Ruie Lavoie, the county’s election director, called it a “very small percentage” of the county’s more than 560,000 voters.
Voters were contacted by mail, phone and email to receive their correct registration cards — and all incorrect ballots were voided so that if they are returned, there’s no way for them to be counted, Lavoie said.
“We caught these in early June and it was immediately corrected,” Lavoie said.
Lavoie said the issue stemmed from the condensed time period the county had in April to assign voters to the precincts after a redistricting lawsuit. Elections staff worked 18 to 20 hours a day for three weeks to “review over 800,000 address points manually,” she said, a process that usually takes four to eight months.
Baltimore City Board of Elections Director Armstead B.C. Jones also attributed the city’s issue to that time crunch, saying it’s difficult to “do something in three weeks that we do in three months normally.”
Elections directors in Prince George’s, Queen Anne’s and Calvert counties, where the issues with incorrect sample ballots occurred, did not return requests for comment. Actual mail-in ballots in those counties were not affected, and the issue will not affect in-person ballots during early voting or on primary day, according to the state board.
As of Thursday, more than 416,000 Maryland voters had requested mail-in ballots and 51,000 had requested email links to print them at home, according to the state board. About 18,850 Democrats and about 5,800 Republicans had already voted by sending those ballots back.
With the later than usual primary, officials and candidates alike are questioning what percentage of voters will actually turn out to vote in the primary by returning mail ballots or showing up for in-person early or primary day voting.
About 42% of registered voters turned out to vote in the 2020 primary, with the presidential race motivating many voters. Only about 29% of registered Democrats and 22% of Republicans voted in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, when Republican Gov. Larry Hogan faced no intraparty opposition for reelection and Democrats had a more heated contest.
This month, voters have until July 12 to request a mail-in ballot. Early voting centers will be open 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. from July 7 through July 14.