Voters at Bethesda Elementary School during the 2014 election (file photo) Credit: Aaron Kraut

Voting in the April 26 Maryland presidential primary officially begins 10 a.m. Thursday and Montgomery County voters will be able to use any of 10 county locations.

Here’s what you should know about early voting over the next week, including information on new voting equipment, a 10th early voting center and one congressional candidate’s concerns about the voting system for disable voters:

Early Voting Runs Until April 21

Any registered voter in Montgomery County can vote at any of the county’s 10 early voting centers from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through April 21.

County election officials are encouraging voters to vote early for convenience and to save time. On election day (April 26), you’ll have to vote at your assigned precinct and could encounter lines and long wait times.

If You Aren’t Registered to Vote, You’re In Luck

Advertisement

Thanks to a law the state legislature passed in 2013, this year will be the first that Maryland is offering same-day registration during early voting.

In order to register, you must have a valid Maryland driver’s license or Motor Vehicle Administration-issued photo identification and proof of residency. Those who register at an early voting location will then be issued a ballot.

Same-day registration won’t be offered on primary day and already registered voters won’t be able to change their party affiliation under the new program.

Advertisement

Most Early Voters Will Use New Paper Ballot System

A new paper ballot-based voting system that originally was set to go into action April 26 will now debut during early voting.

While some disabled voters could still use touch screens to make their selections (more on that later), most will fill in ovals on paper ballots with a special marking device provided by poll workers.

Advertisement

Once a voter fills out the paper ballot, that voter will then take it to one of the location’s DS200 digital image scanners, insert the paper ballot in the scanner and then confirm on a touch screen whether the selections as read by the scanner are correct.

If a voter thinks the scanner misread his or her selections or would like to change a selection, that ballot can be returned to the voter. To confirm the results as read by the scanner, a voter will cast the ballot.

Check out a video explaining the process.

Advertisement

Potomac Will Now Be Home to an Early Voting Site

The result of a controversial effort last fall by the Republican-led county Board of Elections to change two early voting sites was instead the addition of an early voting site at the Potomac Community Recreation Center.

The Jane E. Lawton Community Recreation Center in Chevy Chase and Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center in Burtonsville, which Republicans on the board initially recommended getting rid of, will remain as early voting sites.

Advertisement

The full list of early voting sites is:

Activity Center at Bohrer Park, Gaithersburg;

Damascus Community Recreation Center, Damascus;

Advertisement

Executive Office Building, Rockville;

Germantown Community Recreation Center, Germantown;

Jane E. Lawton Community Recreation Center, Chevy Chase;

Advertisement

Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center, Burtonsville;

Mid-County Community Recreation Center, Silver Spring;

Potomac Community Recreation Center, Potomac;

Advertisement

Silver Spring Civic Building, Silver Spring, and;

Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad Ballroom, Wheaton.

David Trone Campaign Challenges Use of Touch Screens for Disabled Voters

Advertisement

After negotiations with the campaign of District 8 congressional candidate David Trone, the Maryland Board of Elections agreed to guidelines sharply limiting use of new BMD (ballot-marking device) machines as early voting commences. For its part, the Trone campaign plans to have teams of volunteers at polling places during early voting as well as the April 26 primary to ensure the guidelines are being followed.

“By the Board of Elections’ own admission, the BMD machines are confusing and misleading to voters and fundamentally flawed,” Trone campaign senior adviser Andrew Friedson said. “As a result, it’s important that the use of the touch screens be as limited as possible and the voters who are forced to use these faulty machines receive as much instruction as possible to protect their rights…and the rights of candidates.”

In the wake of numerous complaints during last year’s municipal elections about the BMD machines— designed to leave a “paper trail” in the voting process—the state board in February opted to have most voters use paper ballots in the upcoming primary. But the BMD machines were left in place for use by individuals who, due to physical disabilities, could not vote by paper ballot.

Advertisement

This prompted “serious concerns” on the part of Trone as well as some other candidates, notably that of current District 8 Rep. Chris Van Hollen—who is seeking the Democratic Senate nomination. The problem: The BMD machines allow the listing of a maximum of seven candidates on a single page. Given this year’s crowded field of candidates in several races—including the Baltimore mayoral contest as well as the Senate and District 8 primaries—this put candidates with surnames toward the end of the alphabet on a second page, where voters could conceivably miss them.

The Trone campaign initially filed a temporary restraining order against the state election board in early March, but ultimately opted for negotiation—retaining the firm headed by David Boies, the attorney who represented then-Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in litigation that followed the 2000 election.

While the Trone campaign still maintains the elections board failed to follow state law requiring an equitable split in candidate names between the first and second pages of the BMD machines, “we’ve worked collaboratively and cooperatively with the board to establish clear standards to mitigate the impact these devices will have on the outcome of the election,” Friedson said.

Advertisement

It is unclear how many voters will make use of these machines in the upcoming election. There will be only one such device per polling place, and, if a voter with a disability does need to make use of it, two other voters will be asked at random to use the machine to preserve the anonymity of the initial voter’s choices.