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by Diane Bernard, Public News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Facing a shortage of poll workers because of the pandemic, Gov. Larry Hogan has given the go-ahead to use “voting centers” in Maryland, in place of 1,600 local polling sites for the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The voting centers will be in about 360 locations, including high schools, and can be used by any voter in a county. The move comes after the Republican governor declared this will be a “traditional, in-person” election.

Tierra Bradford, policy manager for Common Cause Maryland, said it’s a victory for local election officials and those who warned against opening so many polling places during a pandemic. However, Bradford said she still hopes Hogan will change his mind and call for a “mail-in only” vote.

“We really do believe that the best way to carry out the election during times as these is to mail ballots to everyone, and still have in-person voting as an option for people who may need it,” she said. “But the majority of people most likely want to fill out their ballot through the mail, just in order to stay safe and to protect themselves.”

In a letter to the Board of Elections on Monday, Hogan said he remains “very concerned about the plan’s potential of creating long lines and unsafe conditions, with crowds of people forced into too few polling places.”

Bradford said the entire issue could be avoided if the election were mail-in only. Even with counties operating a few voting centers, she said, there still may be a shortage of election judges. And with November just around the corner, she said her group now will be advising voters of their rights and how to cast their ballots.

“We’ll just have to start switching gears and focusing on educating people about what their voting options are, encouraging people to fill out their absentee ballot applications now,” she said. “Ask for your absentee ballots if you do want to vote by mail because it’s not going to be directly mailed to you.”

She said Common Cause will meet with Hogan today to encourage the idea of mail-in ballots for all voters. As of last week, Maryland’s local election boards were short by about 14,000 election judges, and committed judges continue to drop out.

Hogan’s letter to the Board of Elections is online at governor.maryland.gov.