While it would be easy to overlook in these crazy times, there’s a special election coming up tomorrow in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District. Voters there will be deciding who will replace Elijah Cummings in the House. But they’re doing things quite a bit differently than usual this time around. To avoid exposing more people to the novel coronavirus at crowded polling places, Governor Larry Hogan ordered that the election be conducted using mail-in ballots.

Smart move, right? I mean, you’re not going to catch COVID-19 sitting at your kitchen table and filling out a form. But there’s one small hitch in this plan. Okay, it’s not really “small” at all. Hundreds, if not thousands of people still hadn’t received their ballots by last Thursday and it takes, on average, five days for the ballots to reach their destination after they are dropped in the mail. (Baltimore Sun)

Some voters across Maryland’s 7th Congressional District say their ballots for Tuesday’s special election never came in the mail as expected, leaving them scrambling to figure out how they can have their say on who will replace the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.

Democrat Kweisi Mfume and Republican Kimberly Klacik are running for the seat held by Cummings, who died in October. The district includes parts of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County.

Voters were to receive ballots earlier this month for the state’s first-ever mail-in election. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the election held primarily by mail to protect voters and election officials during the coronavirus outbreak.

Not only was the state unable to get ballots to everyone who is registered to vote, at this point they don’t even know how many people were left out. Nor do they appear to have any way to generate a list to compare to the voter rolls and figure it out.

Just telling people to put on a mask and go vote in person isn’t going to be a viable solution either. Not only would it fly in the face of the reason they wanted to vote by mail in the first place, but there are only a handful of in-person polling places available. Many people that the newspaper contacted said they didn’t know where those polling places were located and they hadn’t received any notification of the location by mail. And assuming they do manage to find one, it will probably be far more crowded than the usual spots would have been.

In an effort to correct the situation in the final days before the election, the state began attempting to email pdf versions of the ballots to voters who complained about not receiving one. I say “attempted,” because at least some voters told the Baltimore Sun that the attachments failed to download and open properly. Others complained that they don’t own a printer so they would have to go out (violating the stay at home order) and find a friend or a local business (if any are open) where they could print them.

The problems weren’t specific to particular addresses, either. The linked article contains multiple reports of cases where one person at a given address received a ballot, but one or more other members of their family did not. This demonstrates not only gaps in the existing record system but proves that the problems are not limited to people who recently moved and might not have updated their registration records.

And Maryland isn’t some outlier in this debate. Do you remember what a fiasco the Wisconsin primary turned out to be a couple of weeks ago when they rushed to expand voting by mail? Literal tubs of ballots were discovered after the election that had never been sent. At least 9,000 requested absentee ballots failed to go out. Thousands of others were postmarked too late to be counted.

We should be looking at Maryland-7 as a test case for everyone clamoring for the general elections in November to be done by mail. This clearly isn’t the sort of thing that can be set up and organized on short notice. If it can’t be managed on the scale of a single, largely urban congressional district, how do you suppose it’s going to work if we try to scale it up to an entire country of nearly 350 million people with only six months notice?