The House of Delegates moved forward on a bill Monday that would aim to expand the use of mail-in voting in the state, as questions continue to swirl about whether the April 28 primary elections can take place during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) is expected to make an announcement Tuesday about whether the elections ― which include the presidential primary and a special general election to fill the vacancy created by the death of the late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D) in the 7th Congressional District ― will continue as normal. The state’s other congressional races will be on the ballot, as well as local positions in the city of Baltimore, including mayor and City Council president.
Local elections officials have been pressing for modifications to the April election, including the possibility of conducting an all-mail primary. On Sunday, the Baltimore City Board of Elections canceled training for election judges “out of an abundance of caution and following current public health guidelines.” The city elections office is not currently open to the public because of COVID-19 precautions. Other local elections boards in the state are also closed to the public and employees at the State Board of Elections are on mandatory telework.
In a state of emergency, Maryland’s governor can postpone an election in all or part of the state, move voting locations or implement the use of alternate voting systems.
On Monday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) was tangled in court after ordering that polls be closed on Tuesday and the state’s primary election delayed until June. Elections have been postponed in Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana, and in-person caucusing was suspended in Wyoming.
Hogan was asked about plans for Maryland’s election during a Monday news conference. He said he was weighing options on how to move forward.
“We’ll try to maybe tackle that one tomorrow,” Hogan said of potential election changes, as he announced executive orders shuttering restaurants, suspending evictions and increasing the state’s hospital bed capacity. “We are working on contingencies and getting input about what we have to do about the April primary.”
Last week, local elections officials pressed the State Board of Elections to send all voters an absentee ballot for the April primary, citing concerns about the health of election judges.
The State Board of Elections said in a statement on Monday that it is “working closely with federal and state health agencies to monitor developments related to COVID-19.”
“We appreciate that this is an evolving situation and are taking every appropriate step to deliver a safe and secure election for Maryland voters and election workers,” the board’s statement said.
The state board has been reminding voters that any voter who prefers to work from home can request an absentee ballot at elections.maryland.gov/voting/absentee.html.
On Monday, the House of Delegates voted to make a bill that would change references in state law from absentee voting to vote-by-mail an emergency measure.
Del. Nick J. Mosby (D), a candidate for Baltimore City Council president, was floor leader for the bill. In an interview, he said it was a “paramount” concern to move forward with the 7th District special election to fill Cummings’ vacancy because voters there have been without representation for seven months.
“As it relates to the other elections, I think we could be much more flexible,” Mosby said.
If the state’s election is delayed, it would likely be rescheduled before June to accommodate national nominating conventions. The Democratic National Convention begins July 13 and the Republican National Convention is scheduled to begin Aug. 24.
Hannah Gaskill contributed to this report.