Elections Officials Send Hogan 3 Options for November Vote

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The Maryland State Board of Elections submitted final recommendations on the state’s November elections to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) late last week, following a lengthy review of the June 2 mail-in primary.

The elections board drew up three options for the November election for Hogan to consider: holding the election entirely by mail, holding a traditional in-person election, or a mix of both. It will ultimately be up to Hogan as to how to conduct the election.

State Board of Elections members were split along party lines about how to conduct the election during a recent meeting. Elections board Chairman Michael R. Cogan, along with his fellow Republican board members Kelley A. Howells and William G. Voelp, supported a mix of in-person and mail-in ballots on Election Day.

Democrats Malcolm L. Funn and elections board Vice Chairman Patrick J. Hogan, on the other hand, supported an entirely mail-in election.

Board members unanimously denounced a traditional in-person election in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers have also weighed in on how to conduct the November elections. Two prominent Maryland Senate leaders previously urged the State Board of Elections to adopt a “hybrid mail-in preferred” election format.

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) wrote in a June letter that election officials should expand early voting and in-person voting centers.

“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.

Maryland Republicans have raised concerns over election security, and say mailing thousands of unmarked ballots could create opportunities for fraud. Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Harford) and Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore) said in a separate letter that election officials should opt for a traditional, in-person election.

The Republican lawmakers wrote that voters would be able to request an absentee ballot if they don’t want to cast their ballot in person.

Advocates, on the other hand, say a mail-in election is the only way to ensure everyone has the right and opportunity to vote. In a letter cosigned by Maryland PIRG, Common Cause Maryland, the Rev. Kobi Little of the Baltimore NAACP, the ACLU of Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Maryland and Disability Rights Maryland, the advocates urged state leaders to hold a mail-in election. 

“Because of the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis, we cannot assume it will be safe to run our November elections with predominantly in person voting,” the groups wrote to the governor. “We do know that delaying the decision will jeopardize SBE’s ability to run a safe, secure and efficient election process, and could lead to even more problems than those experienced in the Primary Election.”

Local election officials don’t have time to prepare for a traditional election at this point, David Garreis, the president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, told board members in a letter last week.

The elections board has promised to avoid the mistakes that riddled the state’s June 2 primary. While that election saw high voter turnout, it also had a variety of errors. Many voters, particularly those in Baltimore city, received late or incorrect ballots.

Linda H. Lamone, Maryland’s top elections administrator, previously blamed a printing vendor for some of those errors. Election officials wrote in the report that they will build more accountability into future vendor contracts, and plan to “evaluate all options, including options under the current contract and identifying other vendors capable of printing and mailing customized mailpieces.”

Officials also plan to expand the number of ballot drop-off locations using data from the June 2 primary. The ballot boxes used in the primary were popular among voters, according to the report.

Voters who opted to cast their ballots in person in last month’s primary often faced long lines, and election officials pledged to increase the number of voting centers for any election conducted primarily by mail.

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