(The Center Square) – Pandemic-era protocols could have set a new trend in how Marylanders prefer to cast their ballots, based on a recent report from state elections officials.

Mail-in voting, a preferred method at the height of COVID-19 in 2020, remained strong in Maryland’s recent primary election, based on preliminary information.

Nikki Charlson, a deputy administrator with the Maryland State Board of Elections, said about one-third of voters who cast ballots in the July primary did so by mail.

“It does appear that the gross in mail-in voting looks something like 35% of our voters this election voted by mail, which is slightly lower than 2020,” Charlson said when asked about voting data at a Board of Public Works meeting last week.

Since social distancing and other protocols were heightened in the busy 2020 election year, voting by mail became a popular option since it lacked face-to-face contact.

Looking back at 2020, Charlson said, “We weren’t sure if that started a new trend or not. It does look like voting by mail is here to stay.”

Preliminary figures from last month’s primary, however, indicated there was an appetite for some Marylanders to go back to the tried-and-true method of in-person voting on Election Day.

“Early voting, as a percentage, did drop a little bit,” Charlson said. “Based on our unofficial turnout numbers so far, about 17% of our voters voted during early voting. The balance did so on Election Day. We’ll have to see if that trend holds for upcoming elections.”

Prior to 2020, Charlson said mail-in voting was consistently under 10% of the total ballots cast in an election.

While voting methods have changed in recent years, Charlson said there has been one consistent trend – data at times vary widely from one part of the state to the next. Mail-in voting in some areas was in the 10% range; in other areas, it was as high as 50%.

“It varies by county, but it sat at about 25 to 30%,” Charlson said.

Charlson said her office is still pouring over data from the primary election results.

“We are still crunching a lot of numbers and will be happy to provide you with the final ones,” she said to the board.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford – who chaired the board meeting in Gov. Larry Hogan’s absence – said he believed it could be prudent to reduce or eliminate the number of in-person early voting sites in the future since attendance has been marginal.

Rutherford said he based his assessment, in part, on his experience voting early during the recent primary. He indicated he was one of only a couple of people at the site.

“I think it’s something to consider, years into the future, particularly at the local levels, that may want to look at reducing the number of sites of early voting,” Rutherford said.

Sharing his own prediction of where early voting is trending, Rutherford said, “I think you’re going to see more and more people going to the mail-in ballots.”

The Center Square contributor

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