5 things we're watching as Election Day votes come in and counting begins - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Nov. 3, 2020 10:53 am

5 things we’re watching as Election Day votes come in and counting begins

The in-person voting, the count, the scenarios and democracy itself. Here's a look at where a reporter's head is at on Election Day.
We’re voting in a pandemic.

We're voting in a pandemic.

Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash

After a long campaign of debates, questionnaires and memes centered on candidates, Election Day can often feel like the time when citizens get to raise their voice and weigh in with a vote.

This year, however, it feels like everyone has been talking at the same time.

With the pandemic, there was more mail-in voting than ever this cycle, as the closest ballot dropbox replaced the voting booth for many as the place to weigh in. Early voting brought another wave of nearly 994,000 votes in Maryland. It means that, in Maryland, 2.3 million votes are already in heading into Election Day. For perspective, the state registered roughly 2.7 million votes in the 2016 presidential election.

It can be tempting to feel like this is close to being over. In truth, however, the day presents a new set of variables. After all, we’re doing this general-election-in-a-pandemic thing for the first time. So, on the morning of Election Day, here’s a quick look at what we’re watching as the final votes are cast and the counting starts:

The Election Day Vote

First off, if you haven’t voted, now is the time. The procedures are different this year, as there are fewer polling places open and more infrastructure to support mail-in balloting with an eye toward safety in a pandemic. Find a list of voting centers for in-person balloting and dropboxes for mail-in voting here.

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For in-person voting, the state is still planning for long lines, and will keep polls open until after 8 p.m. if necessary for folks who are still waiting. Maryland has same-day registration, so head to the polls even if you didn’t already sign up.

“It is imperative that every eligible Marylander have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote,” said Maryland Elections Administrator Linda Lamone in a statement. “Election officials across the state are prepared to keep vote centers open as long as it takes for voters who were in line by 8 p.m. to cast their ballots.”

Even with widespread mail-in voting, there has been plenty of in-person voting.

Attacks from President Donald Trump on mail-in balloting left many wanting to see their vote cast. Facing a history of voter suppression, in-person voting has been imperative for Black voters who have seeking to ensure their vote was cast, The Washington Post reported. And over the last week, Baltimoreans relished a chance to cast their vote at Camden Yards, which was closed to baseball fans this year.

Baltimore’s elections board is sharing turnout tallies as the votes are cast:

American Civil Liberties Union set up a hotline for voters to call with questions, and also has volunteers ready to assist with issues. It’s 443-399-3229.

If you still have a mail-in ballot to submit, the state recommends to drop it in a nearby dropbox, rather than going through the U.S. Postal Service. Once you’ve submitted a mail-in ballot, use the state portal to look up whether it was received and counted here.

The count

Many votes are already in, and canvassing of ballots began last month. But in a year when many are voting by mail, tallying up all the totals will take longer this year. State elections officials say they’re going to count them all, and that’ll take longer than election night. So even if a vote that was mailed in doesn’t show up as counted until after Election Day, that’s OK. In fact, as long as a ballot is postmarked on Election Day, it has until Nov. 13 to show up.

“Some voters will understandably be concerned that a ballot they submitted prior to Election Day is not showing as counted on the ballot tracker by November 3,” Lamone said. “Marylanders should be assured that, if a ballot was properly completed and submitted by the deadline, it will be counted in the election’s official results. While media outlets may ‘call’ the election on election night, that determination is not based on an official count of ballots received. Due to the nature of this election, counting will continue for some time after Election Day.”

The state board of elections says it will release official tallies each day as counting progresses.

The local races

The spread-out count leaves a scenario where we don’t entirely know when races are going to be called. In Baltimore, the general election ballot includes a host of local races for mayor, City Council President and members of Congress. There’s also a full slate of ballot measures that could change the structure of local government. In the mayor’s race, we checked in with Democrat Brandon Scott, Independent Bob Wallace and Republican Shannon Wright for their views on tech and entrepreneurship. Candidates are making last-minute pushes today, and voting themselves:

The social platforms

On the national picture, there’s uncertainty about when the presidential race between Trump and former VP Joe Biden will be called. But let’s face it, we want to know who will win ASAP. If it’s a landslide, that might happen. But if it’s close, we’ll all be glued to information sources seeking any clues about what the races could be.

If mail-in ballots in largely Democratic states take longer to count or races are very close, it could leave the door open for misinformation. During a conversation earlier this fall with my colleague Paige Gross, New York Times opinion writer Charlie Warzel laid out a scenario where the president could claim victory on Election Night even if there is no official call, and many ballots cast by Democrats are still out to be counted. With so much spreading via social media, it’ll be up to the platforms to ensure only good info is getting out. Missteps made in 2016 led to four years of questions for Facebook and Twitter, and they’ve put new measures in place.

But that doesn’t mean they’ve stamped it out, so on a night like the task also unfortunately falls to users to take a bit more of a measured approach. When you’re dealing with raw information presented on the platforms that’s not from a source that has done the vetting, follow what a reporter would do: Check it out with a few sources before going with it.

What does this mean for democracy?

If it’s close or contested, a whole other set of scenarios could play out on the ground, and in the courts. Many cities, such as D.C., are boarding up storefronts to prepare for unrest. Baltimore police canceled leave for Election Day, and trained 200 officers in “mobile field force” as it was “preparing for any potential issues surrounding the election,” said Commissioner Michael Harrison.

The results will bring lots of new data points to sift through beyond the winners. One that I’m particularly interested in: How many mail-in ballots that were requested and sent out were actually returned? And how does that figure into turnout?

If you’ve already voted and are waiting for the results, it’s worth taking a moment to consider how this election has changed the process of voting. Particularly when it comes to mail-in voting, that infrastructure is now in place for use, whether there’s a pandemic or not. Will it be with us in future elections? It’s just another way 2020 could change things structurally going forward.

Series: Election 2020
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