City’s Board of Election Supervisors will be attending next week’s City Council meeting to discuss its recommendation on improving voter participation and other issues regarding this year’s November City election. Please see the Board’s recommendations below:

The Board of Election Supervisors has reviewed the results of the Election Survey of College Park residents on their opinion about City Elections. You can review the Board’s analysis on the survey results here.

The following highlights are noted:
• 42% of respondents stated that Vote by Mail would make them most likely to vote.
• Of the polling places listed in the survey, the College Park Community Center was ranked as the first choice among respondents.
• Contested elections increase voter interest.
• An overwhelming majority of the respondents believe the Mayor and Council have some, or a huge, impact on quality of life.
• Only 8.1% of respondents said social media was their most likely information source.

The Board of Election Supervisors has been reviewing options for carrying out a City election that encourages voter turnout and that allows every valid voter the opportunity to vote. We recommend the following:
1. Develop a permanent, sustainable process for Vote by Mail (VBM) to establish a culture and practice of VBM in College Park by adopting the state’s permanent VBM list. For those voters not already on the state’s permanent VBM list, we will foster an easy application process for a mail-in (or drop-box) ballot and encourage College Park voters to sign up for the state’s permanent VBM list.
2. Conduct an Early Voting process that gives maximum flexibility to voters while reducing cost.
3. Mount a sustained voter information campaign before and during the election on where, how, and when to vote in the City election.
4. Examine other administrative changes to facilitate voting.

1. Develop a permanent, sustainable process for VBM

1.a. Adopt the State of Maryland Vote by Mail list.
We propose the groundbreaking step of having College Park be the first municipality in the County to formally (by law) use the State of Maryland’s Permanent Vote by Mail list as the City’s permanent list of City voters who would automatically receive a ballot by mail. As always, the voter can return completed ballots by mail or by drop-box. It is noteworthy that College Park voters have been early adopters of the State VBM list with over 880 registered voters listed already.

Adopting the State VBM list would create a permanent VBM list for the City that would be updated prior to each election. This will create a permanent method of identifying voters who have opted-in to VBM. We believe this would help establish a culture of VBM in the City. The State and County Election Boards would maintain the list, updating voter addresses and registration status as theydo now. The County Board of Elections has stated that they will share the permanent VBM list of City registered voters with us to identify City residents who have opted-in. We will publicize the permanent Vote By Mail list and encourage voters to sign up if they are interested.

1.b. Make applications for ballots available to any valid voter who requests one by the deadline.
We propose to make applications for mail-in ballots readily available online, at all City buildings, and through local listservs. In addition, we will offer to mail applications to any registered voter who requests one. Qualified voters may receive a ballot by mail or in person at City Hall.

2. Conduct an Early Voting process that gives maximum flexibility to voters while reducing cost.
2. a. Provide in-person early voting at City Hall, during office hours, for the 10 business days prior to the election.
Any voter can fill out an application for a ballot and obtain and cast a ballot at the Clerk’s Office at City Hall 10 business days prior to the election. We propose to establish extended hours for early voting at City Hall on one or more of those days, when we would augment the Clerk’s office staff with Election Supervisors and Election Judges as necessary. Our voter information campaign would highlight the opportunity to vote early at the voter’s convenience at City Hall and promote the days that provide extended hours for voting early at City Hall.

2.b. We propose to follow the State of Maryland practice by changing the term “Absentee” ballots to “mail-in ballots” in the City Code. We will also change the term “late application absentee ballots” to “early voting.”

3. Mount a sustained voter information campaign before and during the election, using postcard mailings and other media, before and during the election on where,
how, and when to vote in the City election.
3. a. Based on feedback from the Election Survey, it is clear that social media is not reaching voters as we had hoped. We propose to increase the budget for direct mailing.
3. b. The City and County are exploring the possibility of having one of our early mailings sent out by the County, with the City providing the digital art file and reimbursing the County for the cost of printing and mailing. With this method, the mail return data would go directly to the County and they would use it for voter list maintenance. If this option does not pan out, then we propose taking a legislative course of action to get the County to use our returned mail data for list maintenance.

4. Examine other administrative changes to facilitate voting.
4.a. We propose changing the voter registration deadline from 28 days, to 15 days, prior to Election Day. This is based on discussions with the County on the amount of time they require to process registrations.
4.b. We propose one polling location, the College Park Community Center, for in-person voting on Election Day.
4.c. Election Day: We propose either Sunday 11/5/23 or Tuesday 11/7/23. Since we are offering Early Voting at City Hall on weekdays for 10 days prior to the election, the Sunday date might provide the most voter choice, although Tuesday is a traditional Election Day.

4.d. We will explore the possibility of additional drop-boxes to accommodate voters farther away from the designated polling places.
4.e. We will continue to explore same-day voter registration with the County to minimize the number of voters who are required to cast provisional ballots.
4.f. Ranked Choice Voting. We are interested in discussing with the Council about Ranked Choice Voting and recommend that we table this discussion until after the upcoming election. We are recommending several innovations, with the permanent VBM list and a new way of thinking about early voting, and we are concerned that our communications about these innovations would be complicated by also trying to educate the voter about Ranked Choice Voting.
4.g. The BOES plans to start pre-processing ballots cast by mail and drop-box one week before Election Day. We propose to hold the Canvass one week after Election Day, which the Council previously indicated would be acceptable.

5. Voter Forums.

We have noted voters’ interest in more information on Candidates and issues through forums and other organized forms of publicity. We as a Board have reviewed the City’s Policy on Candidates’ Debates and recommend that the policy not be changed. We believe that Voter Forums are not an appropriate role for the BOES. If the M&C were to work with the Civic Associations on a calendar of Election Information Events, however, it might be appropriate for those dates to be announced on City mailings or information.