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Voter Education: How to Vote Right Now

Posted on September 17th, 2020 by

We’ve already talked a lot about voting in our Voter Education blog posts. We’ve covered voting rights in Maryland and how to educate yourself as a voter, providing resources so that you can make informed decisions and let your voice be heard. We’ve also talked about how to request a mail-in ballot and why mail-in ballots are just as accurate, and much more accessible, as voting at a polling place. As we get closer and closer to election day, we want to remind our community that voting makes you an Upstander. You are not standing by and acting passive during this time of extreme climate change, a global pandemic, and human rights violations. You have the right to choose who leads us during these crises, and what direction you want our world to move towards.

Of course,  as we’ve mentioned before, voter suppression is a real threat to many people, especially those who are people of color, living in poverty, or living in rural areas. Voter suppression is a huge issue that affects many and is a systemic issue that will take a huge amount of time and effort to fix. You can help fight this threat by helping others to register to vote, to request their mail-in ballots early, and to help them drop their ballots off to a polling center. You can also work with voter rights groups as they provide resources and volunteer to ensure that everyone accesses their right to vote. While these steps may seem small, they are still incredibly important.

As far as your own mail-in ballot goes, we encourage every Maryland voter to request their mail-in ballot today. In fact, right now, follow these steps to request your ballot:

1. Go to the Maryland Board of Elections webpage on mail-in voting.

2. Click on “How do I request a mail-in ballot?”

3. If you have your MD driver’s license or MVA-issued ID card, you can complete the form online using this link.

4. You can also complete and return one of the forms on the website, by mail, fax, or email. If you plan to fill out a form and mail it to your local board of elections, you should do that as soon as possible.

5. You can also go to your local board of elections to fill out and turn in a form. To find your local board of elections, you can visit this website.

Once you have filled out and returned the form, whether online, in the mail, or in person, you can check the status of your mail-in ballot by going to the Voter Lookup site. This site will ask you for your name, birthdate, and Zip Code, and then provide you with the status of your mail-in ballot application. This information is important for you to keep track of, so that you can plan accordingly.

When you do receive your mail-in ballot, follow the instructions on the ballot carefully. When you have finished completing the form, you can mail your ballot back.

However, because of the delays in the Postal Service at the moment, we strongly encourage you to hand deliver your ballot. You can do so by dropping it off at a voting location, a ballot drop off box, or your local board of elections. The mail-in voting webpage on the Maryland Board of Elections website will list these drop-off locations once the information is available. By hand delivering the ballot, you are ensuring that it will be counted in time for the election.

If that method is not available to you, however, you can still mail it. Just make sure your envelope is postmarked before November 3rd (election day). However, your ballot must be received by the local board of elections by November 13th, which is why we recommend you send it in the mail early or drop it off at a drop-off location.

Mail-in voting is safe, secure, and accurate. While these steps may seem like a lot, the Maryland Board of Elections website makes it as simple and easy as possible to request and receive your ballot. Even as the postal service faces changes and closures, both inside and outside of its control, voting by mail is an important tool for all voters in the US so that they can ensure that their voice is heard.


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Voter Education: Baltimore City Council

Posted on May 8th, 2020 by

The presidential election is approaching fast, though how it will play out in the current situation is yet to be seen. But did you know that when you got to vote this November, there’s going to be lots of other races on your ballot?

As we discussed a little while back, Baltimore and Maryland have a lot of choices in the upcoming election, ranging from Baltimore City Mayor to Circuit Court Judges. Even Maryland Congressional District 7 will be up for election again, despite the special election just held to fill the vacancy. Today, we’re going to focus on a couple of Baltimore specific races involving the City Council.

This map depicts the 14 City Council districts in Baltimore. Unsure of your district? Visit the City Council’s web page to find out.

The Baltimore City Council is responsible for altering and adopting the annual budget for Baltimore City, as well as confirming the Mayor’s appointments. The various committees that the members serve on also inform certain public policy and projects, around topics of education and youth, public safety, transportation, and more. The members of city council are elected based on their district, while the Council President is elected at-large, meaning all voters in Baltimore City. The Council President is an influential figure in Baltimore City, and if Mayor’s position is vacated, they are the ones who step up to fill the office, which is how Mayor “Jack” Young became mayor when Catherine Pugh resigned in May of last year. When Mayor Young stepped up, the members of City Council elected Brandon M. Scott to Council President.

Mayor Young standing with Brandon M. Scott as he swears in as City Council President.

Which leads us to one of the up coming elections: Brandon M. Scott is running for Baltimore mayor, one of many in a large field of Democratic candidates, leaving the Council President position up for grabs. This year, there’s only one Republican candidate running for Council President, but there are seven Democratic candidates running, making it a large pool of choices for most voters.

Two of those candidates currently serve as City Council members, Shannon Sneed and Leon F. Pinkett, III, while the rest have various amounts of experience in Baltimore City politics. Once again, we encourage you to do your research prior to voting, such as with the resources we’ve recommended in the past. Another additional place to find out information is through the Greater Baltimore Committee’s election page, which includes links and questionnaires from all Baltimore City election candidates.

Leon F. Pinkett, III and Shannon Sneed, two City Council members who are running for City Council President this fall.

In addition to Council President, all the City Council positions are up for election this year. These elections, done by district, range in size from just a couple of candidates to ten, depending on the race. Some of the races only have Democratic candidates, while some have Republicans opposing the incumbent leader.

Traditionally, the incumbent candidates have an advantage over any newcomers, though that doesn’t always predict the race, as Shannon Sneed proved in her election to District 13 in 2016. While City Council has to work with many different groups to get plans done, they still have a lot of influence over the way a neighborhood grows and changes. As a Baltimore citizen, it’s your duty to inform your decision before stepping into the voting booth, as you will decide what direction your neighborhood should go!

Still unsure of who to vote for in the upcoming election? Look at how candidates are handling and talking about the current COVID-19 crisis. Who is making decisions and looking out for the safety of Baltimore’s people? In a time like this, it’s more important than ever that we have leaders who we can trust and rely on, to guide us through uncertainty.


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Voter Education: Know Your Rights!

Posted on May 1st, 2020 by

Voting can be tricky, especially if it’s your first time voting or if you moved to a new state. Rules and regulations vary from place to place and even depending on the election. Always make sure to do your homework and figure out what you need, whether you’re voting in person or voting via absentee ballot. To get you started, we wanted to share some info about voting laws in Maryland, and the context of these regulations. If you’re from out of state, make sure to check your local Election Board for information and voter education websites to figure out what you’ll need when you visit the polls.

Will I need to show my ID when I go to vote?

In Maryland, most of the time you do not need to show your ID when you vote in person or via absentee ballot, as long as your name is on the list of registered voters. There are a few exceptions, including, if you registered to vote by mail and have not previously met the ID requirements, someone in the polling place challenges your identity, or if you are registering to vote or changing your address during early voting. In Maryland, the following can be used as valid ID:

A Maryland driver’s license or another MVA form of ID

A student ID card that has a photo

An employee ID card that has a photo

A passport or another government-issued ID

Or a utility bill, bank statement, government check, or paycheck that shows your name and address and is less than 3 months old. This option is only if you don’t have the other forms.

A driver’s license might be a common form of ID, but not all people have access to it or another MVA-issued ID.

If you are showing ID because you are voting for the first time, your name and address on the document must match the information on the voter registration roll. If you don’t have any of these forms of ID on you when you’re at the polling place, don’t worry! You can still vote using a provisional ballot.

Provisional ballots allow people to vote at a polling place even if they’re not on the list of registered voters. As long as the board of elections is able to verify the identity of the person who filled out the provisional ballot, the vote will be counted. If you’re filling out the provisional ballot because you didn’t have ID available at the time of voting, simply bring any form of ID to the local election board.

There are other reasons someone may be asked to fill out a provisional ballot instead of a regular ballot, but as long as you are verified by the election board, your vote counts, regardless of the type of ballot. If you need help with verifying your provisional ballot, contact your election board.

Voter ID laws vary from state to state, but numerous studies have shown that these laws do not actually prevent voter fraud and instead cause voter suppression. Accessing a photo ID requires money and often travel, especially in rural areas, and so Voter ID laws disproportionately affect low-income and minority people. To learn more about Voter ID laws, check out this fact sheet from the ACLU.

What do I do at the polling place?

If this is your first-time voting in person, make sure you follow these guidelines, to ensure that your vote is counted:

Bring a form of ID. As we mentioned above, people voting for the first time in MD will be asked to provide a form of ID.

Do not use your cellphone, cameras, or other computer devices while at the polling place. For privacy and security, keep your cell phone put away until after you leave.

You can bring any materials to help you vote. That includes a sample ballot (such as the ones from the Board of Elections) and any other materials that helped you to make up your mind.

You can bring up to two children with you to vote, as long as they are not disrupting voting procedures. Taking kids to vote is a great way to show them the election process and help educate them on their voting rights!

You can wear politically-themed clothing, such as buttons and t-shirts, but you cannot discuss your vote with others at the polling place.

Once you vote, you must leave immediately.

If you need proof that voted, such as for your employer, you can ask the election judge for a Certificate of Participation.

If you are still in line when the polls close, stay in line! You have the right to vote if you are still in line and you cannot be turned away while waiting.

T-shirts, like this one that Deborah Cardin wore as a child, are fine to wear. Just don’t try to pressure people to vote for your dad! JMM 2013.005.001

And make sure to get your “I Voted” sticker to display proudly for the rest of the day!

If I was convicted of a crime, do I have a right to vote?

In Maryland, if you are serving time for committing a felony, you will not be able to vote. However, once you have finished your sentence, your right to vote is automatically returned to you. This rule varies greatly from state to state, ranging from people being able to vote while serving their sentences to those who permanently lose their right to vote because of the crime they committed. (Note that certain crimes, such as buying or selling votes, may cause a permanent loss of voting rights, no matter the state). Disenfranchising people permanently leads to a large proportion of our population to be excluded from participating in our democratic processes. By signaling to people, who are trying to reenter society and reestablish themselves, that their voice doesn’t matter, it makes it harder for them to find security and success.

Image from the Brennan Center, illustration by Doug Smith.

To find out more about this issue, visit the Brennan Center for Justice’s website about voter restoration laws.


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