Local Election Directors Ask Hogan to Reject “Ill-Advised” Plan for Nov Election

ballot-1294935_1280The Maryland Association of Election Election Officials (MAEO) is calling on Governor Larry Hogan to reject an “ill-advised” plan to mail absentee ballot applications (instead of absentee ballots) to voters in advance of Maryland’s 2020 general election. MAEO is the professional membership organization comprised of local election officials and Election Boards from all 24 jurisdictions in the State of Maryland.

The plan, which was endorsed by a majority of members of the State Board of Elections (SBE), is one of three options submitted by SBE for the governor’s consideration: holding a traditional in-person election (option 1), mailing absentee ballot applications to all registered voters and “adding as many vote centers up to and including election day as each local board can support (as approved by the State Board),” (option 2), or conducting the election entirely by mail (option 3).

While Maryland’s presidential primary election was plagued by long lines, late-arriving/missing ballots, and computer glitches, SBE members were divided on how to best move forward with the general election.

According to Maryland Matters:

State Board of Elections members were split along party lines about how to conduct the election during a recent meeting. Elections board Chairman Michael R. Cogan, along with his fellow Republican board members Kelley A. Howells and William G. Voelp, supported a mix of in-person and mail-in ballots on Election Day.

Democrats Malcolm L. Funn and elections board Vice Chairman Patrick J. Hogan, on the other hand, supported an entirely mail-in election. Board members unanimously denounced a traditional in-person election in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to Governor Hogan, MAEO warns that adopting option 2 would be “costly, inefficient, and unsuccessful” and says that the plan would lead to confusion and long lines at polling places.

From the MAEO letter:

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. Based on our experience during the Primary Election, all ballots for the General Election should be mailed directly to voters in September. This ensures the voters will have their ballots in a timely manner and that the Local Boards of Elections will have the ability to accurately and efficiently process and tabulate the ballots.

Based on our observations of the conduct of the 2020 Primary Election in several states which required a Vote by Mail ballot application, a Vote by Mail application should NOT be sent to every registered voter in Maryland prior to sending a ballot. Election Officials in Georgia reportedly spent $5 million to $10 million mailing every voter a Vote by Mail ballot application and were overwhelmed by more last-minute applications than they could successfully process in time for Election Day. Voters went to the polls instead and Georgia ended up extending voting hours in more than 20 counties across the state.

In the Primary Election, the District of Columbia also mailed every voter an application to vote by mail. The extra step 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. For the General Election, the District will now be following the example of the State of Maryland and will mail every voter a ballot for the General Election (similar to “Option 3”).

Mailing applications first, performing data entry on last-minute requests, and then relying on a vendor to print and mail the ballots in a timely manner, will needlessly pose risks greater than the issues encountered in the Presidential Primary Election. Additionally, our goal is to protect public safety by minimizing crowds and long lines during in-person voting. By mailing a ballot directly to all voters, Maryland can continue to lead the nation in protecting the public health of its citizens. We believe requiring voters to complete an application prior to receiving their Vote by Mail ballot will increase the in-person turnout at the vote centers.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, MAEO last month endorsed a plan for the election to be conducted primarily via mail, with more in-person voting centers and five days of in-person early voting.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Senate President Ferguson and Chair of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Paul Pinsky are recommending a “hybrid mail-in ballot preferred election” in November. The Senate Republican Caucus is instead calling for Maryland to hold a traditional election in November, noting that voters can request an absentee ballot if they choose not to vote in person.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Useful Links

State Board of Elections: Report on June 2 Election & Recommendations for November 3 Election

Maryland Matters: Elections Officials Send Hogan 3 Options for November Vote

MAEO Letter to Governor Hogan (July 6, 2020)

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Local Election Administrators Urge (Mostly) Vote-By-Mail Election in November

Conduit Street Podcast: A View From the Senate

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Senate Leaders Outline Roadmap for November Election

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Maryland Senate Republicans Oppose Statewide Vote-By-Mail Election in November

Letter to State Board of Elections from Senate Republican Caucus

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Hogan Urges Marylanders to Vote By Mail for Presidential Primary Election

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Today: House-Senate Joint Committee Briefing to Review Primary Election

Conduit Street Podcast: Holding Elections Amid a Pandemic