The Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. has taken special care of his nearly 80-year-old mother since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, buying her groceries and teaching her how to attend virtual medical appointments.
But Yearwood, president of the voter mobilization group Hip Hop Caucus, knows there’s one thing he can’t do for his mother: cast a ballot. The longtime voting rights advocate worries that his mother will have to risk her life at the polls this fall as a result of Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s plan to hold a more traditional November election.
“I want to keep my momma alive,” Yearwood said at a rally outside of Government House, the governor’s mansion in Annapolis, Wednesday afternoon. “If we are forcing our senior citizens to put their lives on the line to vote, then we have failed.”
Yearwood was joined by other advocates and lawmakers at the rally, who demanded Hogan reverse his decision to send out mass vote-by-mail applications and open polling centers for the November election.
At the onset of the rally, organized by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, advocates in vehicles honked their horns and drove around Church Circle next to Government House. Many of the vehicles displayed signs accusing the governor of voter suppression.
Anne Arundel County residents Susan Jiacinto and Bob Esch attended the rally to demand a mail-in election in November. Jiacinto didn’t mince words when criticizing the governor’s decision to require voters to apply for mail-in ballots.
“This is voter suppression,” Jiacinto said, holding a cardboard sign drawn to look like an envelope. “Why would we not want to do the safe thing? I would not go stand in a line to vote this fall.”
The June 2 primary was Maryland’s first largely vote-by-mail election. The election saw high voter turnout, but also various errors including late ballot deliveries and long lines at in-person polling centers. Hogan argued that providing voters with more in-person options will maximize participation on Election Day, but advocates say his decision puts unnecessary strain on local election officials and endangers the lives of Marylanders who opt to vote in person.
State Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery) accused Hogan of prioritizing his forthcoming autobiography over the right of Marylanders to vote.
“Give up the nationwide effort to sell your books,” Kramer said. “Give up your plans for a presidential run. You have two years left as the governor of the State of Maryland.”
State Del. Shaneka Henson (D-Anne Arundel) said Hogan’s decision to require voters to apply for a mail-in ballot was hostile, and added that he has “stepped on people’s voting rights.”
“We have to push back when we have a governor who makes decisions that are hostile,” Henson said. “What we are seeing now is the real Governor Hogan.”
The lawmakers and advocates at Wednesday’s rally were far from the first to blast Hogan’s decision to hold a more traditional election. Prominent Democratic lawmakers, voting rights groups and local election officials have all asked the governor to reverse his decision in the weeks since it was announced.
Hogan has pointed to errors in the state’s June 2 primary to justify his decision. The governor has said repeatedly that his decision maximizes people’s voting options for the November election.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released guidance on conducting the November elections, stating that maximizing options for voters is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The rally outside of Hogan’s residence came just a day after Linda H. Lamone, Maryland’s top election administrator, asked for an additional $20 million in election funding for November. Lamone wrote in a letter to state officials that mailing applications to every registered voter in Maryland will cost the state $5.6 million, and mailing out ballots will likely amount to another $5.5 million.
Lamone also asked for money to help local boards recruit election judges. There were more than 8,000 vacant poll workers positions across the state as of last Friday, David Garreis, the president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, previously told Maryland Matters. Many poll workers have reportedly called it quits due to the pandemic.
“We’re going to have polling places that are either understaffed or have no staff at all,” said Garreis, who also serves as the deputy director of elections for Anne Arundel County. “The election starts with your election judges. If you don’t have the people there, you can’t run the polling place.”
Garreis warned that some local polling centers may have to be consolidated due to a lack of poll workers, or if a private polling center declines use. He said 73 centers had pulled out of the November election as of last Friday.
Garreis said local boards will have to send out vote-by-mail ballot applications in August or September at the latest in order to get everyone their actual ballots before the election.
Hogan also revived his criticism of the State Board of Elections, and blamed board members for not coming up with a unilateral recommendation for the November elections. He said he wants to avoid repeating the errors that occurred in the state’s largely mail-in June 2 primary.
“We’re concerned about the lack of progress by the state elections board, and the lack of preparations for the upcoming election this November,” Hogan said.
He noted that Maryland is one of only 14 states that have announced plans to mail ballots or applications to voters for November. He said he wants the general election to be an “all of the above” election.
Although Hogan expressed concern over automatically mailing Marylanders ballots again, sending out absentee ballot requests has proven to be difficult in other states. In Georgia, which sent out mail-in ballot applications to registered voters during its recent primary, late ballot deliveries and hours-long lines were seen across the state.