Early-voting totals must be processed and submitted two hours before polls close on general election night, according to an emergency regulation the state elections board approved last week.
The action is designed to expedite vote counting.
Some jurisdictions experienced lengthy delays tabulating votes on primary election night, partly because tallying early votes took longer than anticipated. The Sept. 14 primary election marked the state's first experience with early voting, which allowed voters to cast ballots on seven days prior to Election Day.
On the day of the primary, local boards were not allowed to start processing early-voting totals until 2 p.m. The Montgomery County Board of Elections, which used 100 touch-screen machines at five early-voting sites, did not complete the process until around 9 p.m.
For the general election, local boards will be permitted to start canvassing early votes anytime on Election Day, Nov. 2. They must submit figures to the state elections board by 6 p.m., allowing two hours for officials to upload and properly format the results before they are posted online once polls close at 8 p.m.
"We recognize that people are anxious for this information and part of how we're going to be judged is how quickly this information gets out," Ross K. Goldstein, the deputy state elections administrator, said last week.
The 6 p.m. deadline will help the process move more smoothly on election night, said Marjorie Roher, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County elections board. It might take officials longer to complete the early-voting count than in the primary because more people are expected to vote early, she said.
It also will give staff several hours to prepare before precinct results are transmitted or hand-delivered to the board, Roher said. Montgomery was one of several jurisdictions that unsuccessfully lobbied the state board to begin canvassing primary early-voting results before 2 p.m., she said.
The earlier deadline also aims to improve the performance of the state board's website, which crashed on primary election night, Goldstein said.
To vote early
Early voting for the Nov. 2 general election will be from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 22, 23, 25, 26, 27 and 28 at the Charles County Board of Elections, 201 E. Charles St., La Plata.