By Diana Philip
The writer is chief of staff of the Democracy Initiative and a proud Marylander.
Dear Maryland voters,
Should you have confidence in casting your ballot and having it counted correctly when you go to the polls for Tuesday’s primary election – and in November?
Yes! Storming State Capitols, a new study from the Democracy Initiative Education Fund, ranks Maryland as second out of 51 jurisdictions across a comprehensive set of indices which assess the voting experience. These include voter registration, early voting, absentee and in-person voting, ballot acceptance, election administration, and other measures. The study found that safe and secure voter-friendly measures have resulted in high rates of voter participation.
Thanks to smart, consistent advocacy by voting rights activists, Maryland has taken a number of steps to make participating in our elections accessible to everyone.
Our state offers automatic, online, and same-day (through Election Day) voter registration. In addition to early in-person voting with Saturday and Sunday hours, Maryland has declared Election Day a state holiday, requires no photo ID, and allows employees to take up to two hours paid leave to vote.
In our study, we learned that Maryland had a high ratio of poll workers to polling sites in 2020 and was also rated well for investments made to improve election processes while being cost effective. There were very few reports during the last general election about voter intimidation or safety concerns at polling sites.
Maryland mails notices to all voters with the option to request a no-excuse absentee ballot, provides prepaid postage, and offers robust ballot return options. In 2020, approximately 88% of all mailed ballots were returned and processed with a very low rejection rate of 2%.
We can also feel secure about certification of our elections, because Maryland has established the constitutional right to a secret ballot and our election administration is designed to be nonpartisan by nature. Polling sites provide high-quality accessible voting machine options and test voting equipment according to federal standards and accreditation. Our ballot drop boxes are monitored 24/7 and ballots are regularly picked up by election officials. The state has good campaign finance disclosure laws which were expanded this last legislative session.
But Maryland can do more. We can join the growing number of states that have moved from no-excuse absentee voting to vote by mail in all elections. Maryland has yet to prohibit weapons at polling sites. Our state should do more to compensate election workers in our recruitment and retention efforts.
While Maryland voters can feel confident in engaging in the democratic act of voting, we can all benefit from practicing a bit of patience during the process. For example, it may take some time for poll workers to carry out all the steps needed to handle a provisional ballot. In fact, after poll workers in many places were unfairly and falsely demonized during the 2020 election, there are concerns about a nationwide shortage of election workers. Here in Maryland, because Governor Hogan vetoed a law that would have allowed election officials to begin initial processing of absentee ballots before Election Day, we will have to wait longer than necessary for election results.
Although all voters should be aware of tactics employed by those seeking to undermine our election processes, people should also feel secure knowing that many voting rights organizations are leading nonpartisan election protection efforts in every state, such as monitoring access at the polls, countering disinformation, and educating voters. Maryland law requires all poll workers to be trained, criminalizes voter intimidation and false election speech, and authorizes law enforcement to be present at polling sites only by request or on official business.
Marylanders can be grateful for the progress made to increase voter access and election integrity. Not all states are so lucky. Your vote this year will determine not only how local and state government officials will continue to protect and advance voting rights in Maryland, but those who win congressional races should influence voting rights in all 50 states and DC. With the failure of the U.S. Senate to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act this past January due to constant abuse of the Jim Crow filibuster, we lost a chance to standardize fair, common sense protections for all voters, no matter their zip code. This must remain an urgent order of business in the next session of Congress.
A robust democracy requires vigilance. It requires us to make sure that all eligible voters are registered and follow through in casting their ballots.
Show your love for democracy! Go vote, Marylanders!
Editor’s Note: This commentary was updated to remove a reference to prison gerrymandering reforms; Maryland was one of the first states to pass such legislation.