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Election 2020 Government & Politics

Maryland Election Officials Issue Warning About Ballot Deadline After Vague USPS Mailer

The United States Postal Service is sending a postcard with vote-by-mail instructions to voters across the country. But the vague, and in some cases inaccurate, information has elections officials “infuriated.” Photo by Angela Breck.

Marylanders are getting cards with information about mail-in voting from the United States Postal Service — but state election officials warn the mailer might cause “mass confusion” for voters.

State Election Administrator Linda Lamone reportedly asked Postal Service officials to stop the mailing, which has sparked outrage of election officials across the United States in recent days. Officials in Colorado went so far as to sue over the card, leading a judge to issue a temporary halt on the mailings.

The card contains generic information about how to use mail-in ballots, and urges voters to request their mail-in ballot at least 15 days before election day. That figure is applicable in Maryland, since the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is Oct. 20 — 14 days before the Nov. 3 election.

But in a statement, Maryland election officials noted that applications for mail-in ballots must be received by local boards of elections by Oct. 20, not just mailed. Officials called the postcard “inconsistent” with Maryland vote-by-mail deadlines, and urged Marylanders to apply for mail-in ballots as soon as possible.

“There is no need to wait,” the statement reads. “Submit your application for a mail-in ballot at your earliest convenience.”

Officials urged Marylanders should mail their ballot applications by Oct. 15. The statement also notes that Marylanders don’t have to return their voted ballot by mail, as instructed by the postcard, but can also return it to one of the roughly 270 drop boxes that will be deployed across the state before the election.

Lamone warned the generic information on the card could lead to “mass confusion” amongst voters in Maryland and across the United States. She said she asked Postal Service officials to halt the mailings, but some Marylanders got the card anyway.

“It’s so generic, and each state is so different,” Lamone said. “They couldn’t possibly have covered everything.”

In other states, however, voters don’t have to request ballots at all. Colorado is one of nine states and the District of Columbia that are automatically mailing ballots to registered voters for the upcoming election.

Jena Griswold, Colorado’s secretary of state, slammed Postal Service officials for the mailing on Twitter. She said Postmaster General Louis DeJoy refused to let election officials review the information card before it was sent out, and said the Postal Service refused a request to stop the mailing in Colorado.

“Confusing voters about mail ballots in the middle of a pandemic is unacceptable,” Griswold tweeted. “It can undermine confidence in the election & suppress votes.”

Lamone said she was on a call with other election administrators from across the nation before last Friday’s State Board of Elections meeting, and said her colleagues in other states were “infuriated” by the mailing.

According to a statement provided by Postal Service spokesman Michael Hotovy, the mailer was meant to provide “general all-purpose guidance” on mailing ballots, not specific state rules.

“The intention of the mailer was to send a single set of recommendations that provided general guidance allowing voters who choose mail-in voting to do so successfully, regardless of where they live and where they vote,” the statement reads. “Each state has its own approaches, rules, and deadlines and we provide the following link for voters to determine their local relevant information:”

Hotovy did not give a figure on exactly how many Marylanders are slated to receive the card.

Tensions around the Postal Service were high long before the overly-broad mailing was sent out. DeJoy implemented a slew of policy changes shortly after he took office in June, including slashing overtime and removing mail sorting machines from facilities across the country, resulting in delayed deliveries and allegations of voter suppression.

DeJoy put a temporary stop to “longstanding operational initiatives” after pushback from advocates and Democratic lawmakers, who charged that the changes were part of a deliberate attempt to sabotage mail-in voting in the upcoming election.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) subsequently told Maryland Matters that the temporary halt on Postal Service cutbacks was “a direct result of the pressure that was brought to bear” from both lawmakers and the public.

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Maryland Election Officials Issue Warning About Ballot Deadline After Vague USPS Mailer