Local Elections Officials Reject Proposal to Require Applications for Mail-in Ballots

A ballot dropbox on East Fayette Street in the city of Baltimore from the June primary. Photo from the Baltimore City Board of Elections.

While Republican members of the Maryland State Board of Elections prefer mailing ballot applications to voters for the November election, local election officials say doing so could be costly and confusing for voters.

Instead, David Garreis, the president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, urged Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in a Monday letter to adopt universal mail-in ballots for voters this fall.

“We cannot overstate the devastating consequences likely to result if the State of Maryland does not plan now to mail every voter a ballot for the 2020 Presidential General Election,” Garreis, the deputy director of the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections, wrote to Hogan, state Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone and state Board of Elections Chairman Michael R. Cogan.

He also urged Hogan to make a decision on how to conduct the November election by no later than the end of this week. State Board of Elections members were split along party lines over how to conduct the November election when they delivered their report on the state’s June 2 primary to Hogan last week.

While members unanimously rejected the idea of holding an in-person election exclusively, they were divided as to whether ballots should automatically be mailed to voters. Cogan, along with his fellow Republicans Kelley A. Howells and William G. Voelp, supported requiring voters to fill out an application if they want a mail-in ballot.

Democrats Malcolm L. Funn and Vice Chairman Patrick J. Hogan opted to support the automatic mailing of ballots to voters.

Prince George’s County officials, too,  have decided to urge Gov. Hogan to require ballots to be mailed to voters, and also to offer a wide range of voting options.

At a virtual session Tuesday, Prince George’s County Council members voted to join County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, all Democrats, in sending the governor a letter suggesting that all voters receive mail-in ballots, and that additional in-person voting centers be made available, and open, from Oct. 29 through Election Day, Nov. 3. They also recommended more drop boxes and early voting options.

Republican election board members worried that voter confidence in the election could falter if mail-in ballots are sent across the state, but Funn and P.J. Hogan said universal mail-in ballots are the only way to ensure everyone has equal access to voting in the midst of the pandemic.

State lawmakers are also split about how to conduct the elections. While prominent Senate Democrats urged election officials to adopt a “hybrid mail-in preferred” election format, Republicans said a traditional election with an emphasis on absentee ballots would be preferable.

In his letter, Garreis wrote that mailing out applications for mail-in ballots doesn’t just confuse voters, but adds unnecessary expenses for local boards. He said election officials in Georgia spent between $5 million and $10 million mailing out ballot applications, and were reportedly overwhelmed by last-minute applications.

Garreis said the District of Columbia also mailed out applications, which “proved costly, inefficient and unsuccessful.”

“Voters went to the polls instead of completing the application and waited in lines as long as five hours to vote on Election Day,” he wrote, adding that D.C. has adopted universal mail-in ballots for the November election.

Local boards don’t have the resources to process thousands of applications while at the same time counting mail-in ballots, Garreis wrote.

Michael Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman, didn’t give a specific date for when Hogan would make a decision on the November elections.

“The governor is currently reviewing the State Board’s report on the primary, and will announce a path forward for the November election soon,” Ricci wrote in an email.

Maryland’s June 2 primary election was the state’s first held largely by mail. The election saw high voter turnout, but also a slew of errors. Many voters, particularly those in Baltimore City, received late or incorrect ballots, and those who opted to vote in-person were met with hours-long lines at limited polling locations.

State election officials have blamed a printing vendor, SeaChange, for delivering late and incorrect ballots. They pledged in their report to hold vendors accountable leading up to the November elections, and may expand early voting and provide more in-person voting centers.

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