WASHINGTON — President Trump denounced the Virginia Department of Elections on Monday after half a million absentee ballot applications with incorrect information were mailed to voters. It turns out the applications were not sent by the Department of Elections, but by the Center for Voter Information, a nonprofit voter registration group that has since apologized for what they said was a mistake.
This snafu has elevated what some are calling election anxiety as voters wonder how this year’s unique election will work in the DMV – between mail-in ballots, a high-stakes presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic.
WUSA9’s Q&A team spoke with election officers from D.C., Maryland and Virginia to get answers to your election questions.
Q: What are election officers doing to prevent hiccups with such a massive mail-in voting operation?
A: Each jurisdiction has a slightly different approach. All three say they are working closely with the US Postal Service to ensure efficient ballot delivery.
DC: The DC Board of Elections says they’ve partnered with the US Postal Service and a mail house to mail every voter a ballot. A mail house is “an operation that will work to mail the ballots out to every voter,” Alice Miller, executive director of the DC Board of Elections, said. “They will put the package together, the envelope together, the ballot together, to ensure that every voter gets the right ballot.”
This is the first time the DC Board of Elections has worked with a mail house to send ballots to voters. They are hoping it will lead to more efficiency.
Ballots will also have tracking information so voters can track their ballots and know they have arrived.
Maryland: Voters must request a mail-in ballot; the state will not be sending them automatically to every voter. Ballots will also have tracking information.
Virginia: Voters can request absentee ballots, which will have tracking information.
Q: How can voters return their ballots to be counted?
A: This, too, varies by jurisdiction.
DC: Ballots can be mailed and deposited in drop boxes around the city. If you want to deliver your ballot in person, it can be dropped off at the Board of Elections’ Office and at the Vote Centers during early voting and on election day.
Maryland: Ballots can be mailed and deposited in drop boxes around the city. You can also deliver your ballot to your local board of elections by 8 p.m. on election day or take it to an early voting center or polling place before the polls close.
Virginia: Ballots must either be mailed or hand-delivered to your locality’s general registrar.
Q: Can voters access their ballot digitally?
A: Yes! But which voters can be sent digital ballots varies by jurisdiction.
DC: The District uses OmniBallot, an electronic online ballot, for people with accessibility needs only. Unless you qualify, D.C. voters have to use a paper ballot.
Maryland: All Maryland voters will receive a form where they can select a digital option.
“On that form, the voter can decide how to receive the ballot,” Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator of the Maryland State Board of Elections, said. “Either we can mail the ballot to the voter at whatever address he or she would like, or we can send a voter a link to download the ballot, print it out, and mail it back.”
Virginia: Digital ballots are only available for absentee military and overseas voters.
Q: Will there be ballot drop boxes and are they secure?
A: You will see large ballot drop boxes in D.C. and Maryland, but not in Virginia.
DC: D.C. says they are aiming to have 50 ballot drop boxes around the city. The DC Board of Elections says they are secure.
“The ballot box is 400 pounds so it’s not anything anyone can pick up and move or walk away with," Miller said. "We will have physical security as well, walking around and making sure that the ballots are not tampered with."
The boxes will be locked and under 24-hour surveillance, according to Miller. She says the DC Board of Elections will be circulating daily until 8 p.m. on election night to pick up the ballots.
Maryland: The Maryland State Board of Elections says they will have at least 127 ballot drop boxes around the state.
“They’re big and they’re heavy so that’s just an inherent advantage,” Charlson said.
But they will also be under 24/7 surveillance, she said, and local election officials must pick up the ballots inside at least twice a day. There will also be a message on the side stating that it is a crime to tamper with a ballot box.
Virginia: Ballot drop boxes will not be an option to return your ballot in Virginia.
Q: What about voting on election day? Will there be enough poll workers?
A: Maryland has election judges, D.C. has poll workers and Virginia has Election Officers – but they’re all essentially the same position, according to Miller.
And all three jurisdictions are recruiting people to fill these paid positions on election day.
To sign up, visit the D.C. or Maryland Board of Elections websites or the Virginia Department of Elections website and sign up for training. Once you have been trained, you will be assigned a position to help process voters as they come through the polling place.
The safest way to vote is by mail-in ballot. But for those who decide to vote in-person on election day, Miller says voting booths will be sanitized between each voter and that poll workers will use protective shields, gloves and lots of sanitizer.
In D.C., your “I voted” sticker will even come in an individual plastic bag to keep you safe.