Maryland’s early turnout lags behind 2018, but unreturned mail-in ballots could make or break 2022 turnout – Baltimore Sun

Midway through, Maryland has seen a decline in the number of voters taking advantage of early voting so far in 2022, but what that means for overall turnout remains up in the air with hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots cast. to send.

During the first four days of early voting, 58,715 Marylanders voted at early voting centers across the state, less than 2% of all eligible active voters. That’s nearly 23,000 fewer voters than at the same point in the process in 2018, the state’s most recent gubernatorial primary. That year, a quarter of all votes were cast by early voters.

In years past, the drop may have been a cause for concern, but the statistics don’t account for a massive variable in the state’s first post-pandemic gubernatorial primary: ballots by correspondence. As of Monday, 480,796 postal ballots had been sent to voters who requested them. Of these, 115,060, or about a quarter, were dismissed.

By comparison, in the 2018 primary, only 30,077 voters voted by mail, then called absentee ballots.

Some have predicted low turnout for the 2022 primary despite competitive races for governor, attorney general and comptroller where none of the three incumbents are running for re-election. The open seats drew vast fields of candidates who flooded radio airwaves, social media and mailboxes with campaign materials, trying to get out of the pack.

Complicating matters is the late state primary, delayed from its original June 28 date, as redistricting challenges worked their way through the court system. Maryland is the only state in the United States to share a primary day with Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game on July 19.

Voters heading to the polls during Maryland’s first voting window generally follow somewhat fixed patterns. The first and last days are often popular. Weekends, while a seemingly attractive option for people who work weekdays, tend to be slow.

This year, Friday, the second day of voting, was the busiest so far, with 18,921 voters casting their ballots. On Thursday, when the window opened, there were almost as many with 18,391. More than 25,000 voters cast their ballots each of those days in 2018.

Lower turnout could favor candidates on extreme sides of either party, said Roger Hartley, dean of the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Primaries tend to attract a party’s most loyal members to begin with. If you narrow those margins, you see more extremes, he said.

“If far-right people show up, it could benefit a Dan Cox rather than a Kelly Schulz,” Hartley said, referring to the Republican gubernatorial showdown between the far-right Cox and the centrist Schulz, who was supported by the Republican. Governor Larry Hogan. “It could benefit a Robbie Leonard rather than a Scott Shellenberger.”

Leonard challenges incumbent Shellenberger for Baltimore County State’s Attorney.

It’s also possible, however, that voters are simply slow to get to the polls or return ballots, Hartley said. Polls showed a high number of undecided voters in state races. People are in a different mood in the summer, Hartley said. They don’t necessarily think about voting.

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“I went to my early vote last week and there were way more candidates and people campaigning for candidates there than people voting,” Hartley said. “Maybe it’s just disinterest.”

Martha McKenna, a campaign consultant who worked for Comptroller candidate Brooke Lierman this cycle, said she expects turnout to at least match 2018 levels, when eventually 25% of voters turned out. returned to the polls. July 19 is not dramatically later than June 28, McKenna argued. Both dates are in the summer.

It’s hard to compare 2022 to a previous year because the pandemic has had lingering effects on how people vote, McKenna said. Maryland is offering a hybrid voting model this year with a full set of 1,500 Election Day polling places, nearly 100 early voting centers, and ballot boxes across the state. Drop boxes were first introduced in 2020.

The only other election in state history with a similar combination was the November 2020 presidential election. That fall, half of the state’s participating voters, or about 1.5 million people, voted by mail, while the other half voted in person – around 1 million at early voting centers and around 500,000 on Election Day.

However, many factors differed between the two elections. Maryland’s primaries are closed, meaning only Republicans and Democrats can participate, while the general election is open to all registered voters. Presidential elections typically attract significantly more voters – around 75% cast ballots in 2020. And the pandemic has changed shape significantly since fall 2020, potentially altering voting patterns.

With three-quarters of mail-in ballots requested statewide yet to be returned, candidates have an opportunity to gain momentum by being on the ground, reminding voters to return them, Hartley said. . Campaigns that have a stronger ground game, deeper grassroots and better voter rolls will benefit, he said.

“It’s about getting out the vote rather than trying to expand the universe of people who haven’t,” he said.

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