Hogan Demands Answers, Action on Delayed Mailing to Voters

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) slammed the Maryland State Board of Elections in a letter Monday, demanding to know why voters haven’t been mailed applications to request mail-in ballots yet.

In his letter, Hogan gave the State Board of Elections 48 hours to explain why those ballot applications have not been mailed to voters, and reiterated his call for election officials to open every available polling center for the Nov. 3 general election.

“Under existing law, and to save voters the extra step of having to request an application for an absentee ballot, I directed you to promptly mail applications to every single Maryland registered voter,“ Hogan wrote. “It has now been 26 days, and you have failed to take action.”

Hogan’s letter came as state election officials are looking for a new vendor to do printing for the November election. State Election Administrator Linda H. Lamone has blamed printing vendor SeaChange for late and incorrect ballot deliveries in the June 2 primary.

The State Board of Elections issued a request for proposals from printers last month. Officials hope to have a contract in place by Aug. 17 so the new vendor can prepare for the unprecedented tasks of mailing millions of registered voters both applications for ballots and actual ballots during a pandemic.

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore city) responded to Hogan’s letter with a detailed timeline that Lamone sent to him and Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s). In that letter, dated July 30, Lamone wrote that the State Board plans to approve a revised mail-in ballot application by Aug. 5.
Maryland voters should start receiving mail-in ballot applications, with pre-paid return envelopes, after they are mailed on Aug. 28, according to Lamone’s letter. Mail-in ballots will be sent starting Sept. 24, according to her timeline. Lamone echoed those comments Tuesday, in a letter to Hogan.

Election officials across the state have scrambled to find election workers and polling centers since Hogan announced his intent to hold a more traditional election in November. Advocates have repeatedly asked Hogan to reverse course and hold another largely mail-in election, as Maryland did for the June 2 primary. But Hogan said state law requires in-person polling centers to be open.

“Let me be clear – this is not ‘my plan,’ it is what Maryland law requires you to do,” Hogan wrote.

The governor also slammed local officials who want to limit the number of in-person locations for voting in the general election. Hogan wrote that he’d received a letter from Prince George’s County officials requesting to close 229 precincts and only open 15. Hogan said such a move would suppress voters of color.

“Local leaders have suggested massive closures of polling places, particularly in some of our minority communities,” Hogan wrote. “This would likely result in voter suppression and disenfranchisement on a significant scale, disparately impacting Marylanders of color.”

Democratic lawmakers, local election officials and voting rights advocates have, in turn, accused Hogan of voter suppression due to his decision to require voters to apply for a mail-in ballot instead of automatically sending them one.

In a Tuesday evening letter to Hogan, Lamone outlined the State Board of Elections’ plan for mailing out applications and ballots as she did in her letter to Ferguson and Pinsky.

She also told Hogan that several local boards of elections are looking to consolidate polling locations, and will be asking State Board of Elections members to approve of those consolidations during their Wednesday meeting.

“Until the local boards of elections submit their requests and the State Board takes action on these requests, I am not able to provide you with the requested minimum number of polling places that will be open,” Lamone wrote.

With millions of applications expected, Lamone said the state will need a data center to help election officials process the unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots and applications.

“Since neither SBE nor the local boards of elections have the capacity to process the significant number of forms we expect to receive, we need another resource to help with this effort or voters will not receive their mail-in ballots in time to vote and return them,” she told Hogan in the letter.

(This story has been updated to include Lamone’s response in a letter to Hogan, Tuesday, Aug. 4, ahead of a State Board of Elections meeting scheduled for Wednesday.)