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Senate Leaders Outline Recommendations for Smoother General Election

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Two Maryland Senate leaders say the state should hold a “hybrid mail-in preferred” election in November to avoid the long lines and late ballots that marred the state’s recent primary.

In a Tuesday letter to members of the State Board of Elections, Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) outlined 10 recommendations for the state’s November elections.

The pair say that expanding in-person voting centers, rolling out early in-person voting, providing more ballot drop-off boxes and demanding greater transparency are the keys to a successful November election.

“Specifically, a ‘hybrid mail-in preferred election’ would require the Board to affirmatively mail General Election ballots to all registered voters in Maryland, and would provide expanded opportunities for in-person voting than those provided in [the] June 2 Primary for those voters who either do not receive ballots in the mail or who strongly prefer to vote in-person,” Pinsky and Ferguson wrote.

The recommendations come a week after a heated meeting in which lawmakers demanded answers from election officials after errors in the state’s June 2 primary.

Even though the primary saw the state’s highest voter turnout in years, many voters, particularly those in Baltimore City, received late ballots or didn’t receive ballots at all. In-person voting centers were overwhelmed with long lines and weren’t always accessible for voters with disabilities, advocates said.

Members of the State Board of Elections were grilled by lawmakers over errors in the election last week. Linda H. Lamone, the state’s top election administrator, said the primary “taught us a great deal” during the online meeting of House and Senate committees that oversee elections.

Election officials are still reviewing the June 2 primary, they said during a State Board of Elections meeting last week, and have yet to make recommendations as to how the state’s general election should look. Whether the election is in-person, vote-by-mail or a mix of both will ultimately be up to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) to decide.

Ferguson and Pinsky said they were encouraged by the high voter turnout, but urged election officials to avoid the same mistakes in the state’s November general election.

“Regardless of the process the Board and Governor ultimately decide, it was clear from the June 16th joint hearing that improvements to the elections process are necessary,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

Ferguson’s and Pinsky’s specific recommendations include: 

  • Universal mail-in ballot applications if the board opts for a traditional in-person election

  • More ballot drop-off boxes and coming up with a plan for where the boxes are placed

  • Bringing back in-person early voting centers

  • More in-person voting locations, with more oversight to make sure historically disenfranchised voters can get to the polls

  • A bigger voter education plan

  • A publicly available operations timeline for the election

  • At least five webinars to keep statewide community and advocacy organizations updated on the election

  • More oversight over vendors, which election officials blamed for some late ballot deliveries in the June 2 primary

  • Releasing precinct-level results — a traditional practice that was dispensed with during the primary.

  • Coming up with specific policies and procedures for reporting general election results

Some top state officials, like Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), have called for Lamone to resign in the wake of the mishaps. Lamone, on the other hand, has blamed a vendor for some of the errors and promised to not repeat the mistakes in the November election.

Removing Lamone, however, wouldn’t be an easy task. A 2005 law, known colloquially as the “Linda Lamone for life” law, provides that, even if the entire State Board of Elections voted to oust her, Lamone could still serve until the Maryland Senate approves her replacement.

Ferguson and Pinsky didn’t indicate a need for new elections board leadership in their letter.

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Senate Leaders Outline Recommendations for Smoother General Election