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Maryland, D.C., Fairfax officials urge voters to avoid mailing ballots, use drop boxes instead

A voter places a ballot in a curbside drop box in College Park, Md. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

With less than a week until Election Day, elections officials in Maryland and the District are urging voters to put mail-in ballots into drop boxes, saying that with U.S. Postal Service delays, it may be too late to return them by mail.

“Delivery times continue to be considerably longer than normal,” Maryland Elections Administrator Linda Lamone said in a statement that encouraged voters to drop off ballots at any authorized drop box. “This will allow them to be confident their vote will be received and counted in a timely fashion.”

Ballots mailed in Maryland and the District must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by Nov. 13 to be counted. Officials in the District, too, said voters who haven’t yet mailed their ballots should instead bring them to a drop box or voting center.

“If you have access to a drop box, use it,” said D.C. Elections Board spokesman Nick Jacobs.

Virginia state officials did not express concerns about sluggish mail delivery complicating ballot counts. “USPS has assured the Department that election mail will be prioritized,” Jessica Bowman, deputy commissioner with the Virginia Department of Elections, said in an email.

But officials in populous Fairfax County voiced the same concerns as their counterparts across the Potomac River. “If you haven’t returned your #mailinballot, act now! We strongly recommend you use a ballot drop box rather than mailing it back,” the county government said on Twitter.

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Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic have led public officials across the region to urge voters to cast ballots early, and — whenever possible — without standing in line at a voting center.

The District mailed ballots to every registered voter to facilitate remote voting, and voters in Maryland requested 1.68 million mail-in ballots, a roughly 10-fold increase from 2016. As of Wednesday, 1.13 million of those ballots had been returned via mail or drop box and received by elections officials.

About 2.3 million Virginians have voted early so far, including 1.5 million in person and 658,000 by mail, according to state statistics. The deadline to seek an absentee ballot was this past Friday, but elections officials in Northern Virginia say hundreds of would-be voters have since sought a mailed ballot through the state Board of Elections website.

While the site tells voters the window for absentee ballot applications for the Nov. 3 election has closed, the “citizens portal” section still allows applications to be submitted. State officials said that’s because voters are allowed to fill out an “annual absentee ballot application,” which would apply to special elections later this year. No such contests are currently scheduled, according to the state website.

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“We remind all voters that the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot was 5 p.m. on Friday, October 23,” said Andrea Gaines, spokeswoman for the state Department of Elections. “Anyone who wishes to vote before Election Day must now vote in person at the voter registration office or, if applicable, a satellite office.”

In Fairfax County as of Wednesday, 1,184 voters had submitted absentee ballot applications after the deadline, county officials said. Prince William County received 125 invalid applications, and Loudoun County got about 200.

Local officials have had to deny those applications and contact voters to say they need to vote in person. They’ve urged the state to make the situation clearer on its website — so far without success.

“It sure would be nice on the end of the voter if they were getting a message when they submitted it,” said Judy Brown, the general registrar in Loudoun.

At least 183,000 D.C. residents had cast their ballots by mail or drop box, or voted early in person, by Wednesday, according to D.C. elections data. Officials are urging residents to vote as soon as possible to avoid lines on Election Day.

“Our vote centers are so ready to receive people now,” said Alice Miller, the D.C. Elections Board’s executive director. “Avoid what could be the longest lines ever Tuesday. Our workers are ready, come now.”

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D.C. officials say fewer than 200 mailed ballots have been flagged for signature issues, and the number of voters who have reported not receiving a mailed ballot is far smaller than that. Jacobs said elections staffers are working to make sure that every voter who wants to can cast a ballot. Those whose ballot signatures are under review by the city, he said, should be patient.

“I recognize how anxious people are, how nervous people are, but it’s part of the review process,” Jacobs said. “It often has a lot to do with having to check an additional source just to be 100 percent sure on the signature.”

Maryland officials do not have a statewide tally on how many of the mail-in votes have been counted so far. For voters tracking their ballots, official say it can take a while for ballots to go from “received” to “accepted” because of the tedious process of opening, canvassing and tabulating mail-in votes.

Local officials said that as of Wednesday, 140,000 mail-in votes had been tabulated in Prince George’s County — 77 percent of the total received there so far. In Montgomery County, 80,000 mailed ballots had been counted, about a third of the number received. All results from the tallied ballots will be kept secret until after polls close on Election Day.

Maryland reported record in-person early voting Wednesday for the second time in a week. A total of 159,426 voters showed up at early-voting sites, 10,500 more than came out Monday, when in-person voting began and broke the state’s previous turnout record.

Rachel Chason and Rebecca Tan contributed to this report.

Voting in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Map: Where to vote early in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Voting guides: D.C. | Maryland | VirginiaHow to vote: D.C. | Maryland | Virginia

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