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COVID-19 in Maryland Government & Politics

Ballots Going Out for Vote-by-Mail Special Election

The late U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D) speaks to reporters in Annapolis in 2019. The state is holding a vote-by-mail election to replace him. File photo

County elections officials on Wednesday mailed out the first batch of ballots for the April 28 special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of former U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D), a top administrator said.

Additional ballots will be mailed out on Thursday and Friday.

“By Friday all of the voters in the 7th congressional district will have ballots en route,” state Deputy Elections Administrator Nikki Charlson told the Board of Public Works.

To make voters in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Howard counties aware of the upcoming balloting, Charlson said the agency is expanding an existing public relations contract “to provide a much greater voter education about the change in the way we’re delivering the election and the important deadlines that are coming up.”

On March 17, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) ordered the board to hold the 7th District contest as a mail-in only election to reduce social interaction.

He also ordered the primary elections set for that day moved to June 2.

In-person balloting “would endanger public health to allow thousands of people to assemble in places like schools and senior centers,” Hogan said last month.

Noting that the voters in the 7th District have been without representation in the U.S. House since Cummings’ death on Oct. 17, Hogan said that election could go forward.

“We think that can be done securely, safely and accurately by mail, as other states have done,” he told reporters outside the State House.

The race to succeed Cummings pits former Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D) against Kimberly Klacik (R). The winner will serve until January; in a heavily Democratic district, Mfume is a strong favorite to reclaim his old seat.

Citing public health concerns and an inability to protect the safety of poll workers and voters, Maryland’s State Board of Elections voted on March 25 to avoid any in-person voting for the special election, a move that angered disability-rights and voting rights advocates, and the board recommended the policy be carried forward to the June 2 contests.

On Tuesday, General Assembly leaders and advocates urged the governor to maintain some on-site voting to guarantee everyone has the chance to cast a ballot.

“The state must explore potential options for in-person voting opportunities for a limited number of our citizens to ensure that we are demonstrating that democracy can still flourish in the midst of a public health emergency,” wrote House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) in a letter.

At Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting, Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) acknowledged that elections officials need to get ballots out the door. But he expressed concern that the board might have trouble reaching voters who have recently moved or have failed to update their address records with the state.

“I would have thought — once the decision was made to go to the mail ballot for the April special election — that maybe a postcard should have gone out,” said the lieutenant governor, who chaired Wednesday’s BPW meeting in Hogan’s absence.

“I think you’re going to miss a lot of people.”

Charlson said the elections board is still receiving “hundreds” of electronic address changes every day from the Motor Vehicle Administration. She also said her agency has been vigilant about notifying people to keep their records accurate.

“We’re going to welcome any and all help that we can get” in publicizing the special election and subsequent balloting, she added.

With voters around the state now set to cast primary ballots on June 2, Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) said he is “highly skeptical” of Maryland’s ability to “pull off a mail-order election” statewide, as Hogan has ordered.

“It’s never been done before,” he said.

Franchot falsely claimed that California was “still waiting” to get the results of its March 3 primary. “I don’t remember them ever getting reported,” he said. Those results were posted on March 12.

The board of elections will hold an online meeting on Thursday to finalize recommendations to the governor for how to conduct the June 2 primary. Among the issues to be addressed: how candidates for office can gather the signatures they need to get on the November ballot without running afoul of the state’s social distancing requirements.

Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone said she is consulting with the attorney general’s office about that requirement.

“We have started looking at that question already,” she said.

Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.

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Ballots Going Out for Vote-by-Mail Special Election