Pollution, Pandemics, and the Polls: How And Why To Vote in the Age of COVID-19
You’ve probably been hearing about how elections are being impacted by COVID-19 around the country and may be wondering what’s going to happen with our local elections in Maryland. While voters in Wisconsin were recently forced to put their health at risk to exercise their right to vote, Marylanders will have the opportunity to participate in our upcoming elections safely through increased vote-by-mail measures.
We all have many things on our minds and our lives are changing every day in this new reality. But taking the time to vote is more important than ever.
Environmental Laws on the Chopping Block
Scientists have concluded that even small amounts of air pollution significantly increase the death rate from coronavirus, driving home the importance of maintaining — if not strengthening — pollution rules at this time. Despite this reality, some elected officials are using this crisis as an opportunity to roll back pollution regulations, putting communities that already suffer from pollution at increased risk.
Most notably, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stopped enforcing environmental laws in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But our local leaders can still enforce key pollution rules, even as the federal government chooses not to.
What’s on the ballot
There are two important elections coming up in Maryland:
- April 28th: Special Election in Congressional District 7 to elect the successor to the late Rep. Elijah Cummings. Find your congressional district here.
- June 2nd: Maryland’s rescheduled primary election. This includes the primary election for President of the United States as well as the Baltimore City Council, Mayor, and Comptroller.
We urge you to participate in these elections and support candidates who understand the connections between environmental and public health. While we cannot endorse candidates as an organization, there are local groups from whom you can learn more about the environmental positions of many candidates. You can also check out this video from an environmental mayoral forum in February hosted by Baltimore Blue+Green+Just.
How to vote
Everyone who is able to vote by mail is encouraged to do so in order to practice social distancing and help flatten the curve.
All “active” registered voters will automatically receive a ballot in May for the June 2nd election. The Board of Elections (BOE) considers you an “inactive” voter if they have sent you two pieces of mail that have been returned. If you’re considered “inactive,” you will not automatically be mailed a ballot and will need to request one. If you have recently moved or have not voted in a recent election, confirm your address on the BOE’s website and request an absentee ballot. Voters in Congressional District 7 should have already received their ballots for the special election, and they must be postmarked by April 28th to be counted.
There is also an option to receive your ballot by email. This is useful if you or someone you know needs to use a screen reader or other accessibility technology to complete the ballot. However, you will need access to a printer in order to use this option, as well as stamps. The ballots that are mailed to your home do not need postage.
Finally, there will be a limited number of in-person voting sites. These should be reserved for people who are unable to vote by mail or need access to special accommodations. There will also be ballot drop-off boxes where voters can drop off their completed ballots between May 21 – June 2.
- To register to vote, change your address, or request an absentee ballot, visit the Board of Elections website.
- For more information about voting in Maryland during a pandemic, check out this Op-Ed in the Baltimore Sun by Baltimore Votes co-founder Sam Novey, Black Girls Vote Founder and CEO Nykidra Robinson, and Open Society Institute-Baltimore Director Danielle Torain.
- Baltimore Votes, Black Girls Vote, and Open Society Institute-Baltimore are also hosting weekly webinars on voting by mail. You can check out the latest one here.
**Updates as of 5/28**
The Board of Elections mailed ballots a week late, meaning most city residents did not receive theirs until May 23rd. If you’ve received your ballot, be sure to fill it out with black ink, sign it, and put it in the mail by 8pm on June 2nd! You can also drop it in a secure drop box before June 2 at designated locations around the city (see the complete list here).
If you still have not received your ballot, you can:
- Request an electronic ballot. *You need access to a printer for this option.
- Vote in person on June 2. Here are the 6 in-person voting locations.