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Mail the vote

City sees success with new election approach

More than 12,000 voters cast ballots during Rockville’s first all-mail election last year — up 88 percent from the previous election and the highest turnout in the Maryland city’s history.

Rockville, a Maryland city of about 68,000 residents near Washington, DC, made history last year when it became the state’s first jurisdiction to hold an election entirely by mail.

Based on the results, it might not be the last.

More than 12,000 voters cast ballots in the election for mayor and city council — up 88 percent from the previous election and the highest turnout in Rockville’s history.

“We were very pleased,” said Lois Neuman, chair of the city’s board of elections supervisors.

Rockville is one of several municipal governments that are turning mailboxes into ballot boxes, spurred by research that shows allowing people to vote by mail increases turnout.

Several cities and states — including Colorado, Oregon and Washington — hold all elections entirely by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

To conduct Rockville’s first all-mail election, Neuman and her fellow elections supervisors relied on local Postmaster Gabriel Hamilton, who oversees the city’s four Post Offices.

Hamilton visited each office with sample ballots to ensure employees knew what to look for. He gave stand-up talks six days a week leading up to Election Day and even gave every employee his cellphone number along with instructions to call with any questions.

“This was my first encounter with voting by mail, so I guess we were all pioneers,” he said.

Rockville city officials, likewise, left nothing to chance, launching an aggressive mailing campaign to confirm voter registration information and promote the new voting initiative.

“When we started our outreach in May, no one knew what voting by mail was. By October, everyone knew,” Neuman said. “The questions we received in May were ‘What is vote by mail?’ In October, it was ‘When will I receive my ballot?’”

The city mailed ballots to every registered voter 30 days before the election. Every day through Election Day, Hamilton made twice-daily deliveries of mailed-in ballots to the elections board — even on Sundays.

“The Redskins were losing, so I wasn’t doing anything on Sundays anyway,” he said jokingly.

The cutoff time for ballot deliveries to the elections board was 8 p.m. the day of the election. Hamilton, escorted by postal inspectors, delivered the final round of ballots to city hall.

Rockville’s next election will occur in 2023 and, according to Neuman, the city anticipates using vote by mail again.

“Being that this was Maryland’s first vote-by-mail election, all eyes were on us. Our employees worked hard to make sure it was successful, and we’re proud we could deliver for the voters,” Hamilton said.

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