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Calvert County residents encountered excessively long wait times on Election Day after the county’s board of elections decided to merge voting districts to cut down on the potential spread of Covid-19.
Voters in the county were unable to visit their local polling sites as they have during past elections leaving those last minute voters to flood one of Calvert County’s five polling stations — all of them high schools that could accommodate a large number of people while keeping them socially distant.
“This is the biggest turn out I’ve ever seen,” Chief Judge Jeanne Bateman said at Calvert High School. “I thought Obama’s election was big the first time around, but it doesn’t hold a candle to this,” she added.
Slow-downs continued off and on once inside the polling site where 15 voters were served at a time at Calvert High School. Same day voter registration, provisional ballots and having to separate voters out by district contributed to the long wait.
In addition to voting in person on Election Day, the county’s voters were given the option to vote by mail-in ballot, which they also could have dropped off at one of the county’s ballot boxes. However, the distrust in the US postal system discouraged many from using this method to cast their vote, including John Kelly.
“I don’t like to wait… [but] it’s the all American way to show up to vote,” Kelly said.
In addition to submitting a ballot, voters could also attend early voting during an eight day period at the Community Resources building’s lower level conference rooms.
Jim and Linda Habercam made the decision to vote in person on Election Day after attempting to vote early a number of times where they were confronted by even longer wait times in a more confined space.
“We just didn’t feel comfortable,” Jim said, referring to Covid-19 risks.
“In Calvert early voting is at the board office, and it’s a very small area. If they had early voting in a place that had more room it would [have been] more efficient,” Bateman said.
Lines stretched around Calvert High School, where at 1 p.m. the wait time was over an hour but some voters commented that the high school had some of the shortest lines in the county.
At Patuxent High School in Lusby, MD lines were an estimated half a mile long with wait times amassing two to three hours.
“All the precincts that would be voting down in the southern end of the county are all voting [at Patuxent High School],” Chief Judge Becky Grover said.
Grover along with 16 other poll workers worked, often without breaks, to oversee a smooth voting process. With fewer staff members to oversee an influx of voters who had fewer options for in-person voting, lines progressed at a slower pace.
According to a 2018 poll from the Pew Research Center, people over the age of 60 accounts for 58% of polls workers nationwide, which could account for lower staffing at polling stations as well as the decrease of voting locations.
The Calvert County Board of Elections announced their voting plan in September and those who weren’t aware of the changes admitted that they would have voted a different way to avoid the long lines.
As of midday November 4, the Calvert County Board of Elections has reported that more than 14,000 county residents cast their votes during early voting and over 13,000 ballots were cast at the polling sites on Election Day. So far, the county has received more than 20,000 ballots and another 2,000 are expected to arrive before the November 13 deadline, according to Sarah Ehman, a public information officer for the county government.
All photos from Matt McDonald
Updated on November 5, 2020 @ 8:45 a.m.