Baltimore Sun

Maryland early voting turnout spikes after sluggish start

- By Sam Janesch

Five days before polls open for Maryland’s primary election, more state voters have already cast ballots compared to similar recent election years — though their methods of doing so have shifted.

More than 347,000 voters had cast ballots either by mail or in person by the end of the day July 14, the last of seven days of early in-person voting. That’s about 9.2% of eligible active voters, according to the latest figures from the State Board of Elections.

Signs had pointed to lower-than-expected turnout in the first days of early voting. And though voters turned out in increasing numbers in the final days, the total still remained lower than the same period in 2018, the last gubernator­ial primary.

“The number right now for early voting suggests what everybody sort of expected: That this is not going to be a higher turnout election year in Maryland,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College.

Nearly 49,600 voters cast ballots on the last day on Thursday after more than 28,000 voted on Wednesday. The previous five days had averaged about 17,400 voters.

About 182,000 — or 4.8% — of the nearly 3.8 million eligible active voters ultimately turned out to vote in-person on those days, fewer than the 6.2% who turned out during the same period in 2018.

But unlike that last major pre-pandemic election, voters have continued to request and return mail-in ballots in large numbers.

More than 165,000 mail-in ballots had already been received by election officials as of Thursday after a half-million voters requested them before the July 12 deadline.

In 2018, just 30,000 voters voted by mail absentee ballot. Counting in-person primary day voters that year, about 24.3% of all voters ultimately turned out.

It’s unclear whether enough voters will either turn out in person Tuesday or return mail-in ballots to meet or eclipse that outcome in this year’s wide-open races, including the selection of Republican and Democratic nominees to succeed term-limited Gov. Larry Hogan.

Kromer said the decline in early voting is likely a better indicator of what overall turnout will look like compared to the already-received mail-in votes, because it’s unclear how many of the remaining mail-in ballots will be returned.

That answer also won’t come until days after the polls close, as ballots postmarked by July 19 can be accepted as long as they’re received by July 29.

Ballots cast during early in-person voting will be the first batch that election officials will tally and release the results for shortly after the polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Unofficial results for voting that day will follow later in the evening, while all mail-in ballot results will be delayed this year. Election workers can’t legally begin opening mail-in ballots until 10 a.m. Thursday.

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