With 118 days until the November general election, and given the State Board of Elections’ (SBE) failure to provide a formal recommendation on how to conduct the election, Governor Larry Hogan today directed the Board to follow existing state law and conduct the election with enhanced voting options in light of the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Every early voting center should be open and every polling location should be open on Election Day to accommodate anyone who wishes to cast their ballot safely and in person.
- To ensure that every Marylander who wants to vote by mail can vote by mail, SBE should promptly send out an absentee ballot request application to every eligible Maryland voter.
- Every effort should be made to promote early voting, absentee voting by mail, and voting at off-peak times as safe and efficient options.
Governor Hogan also informed SBE that the state will encourage state employees to help supplement election staffing needs, and provide any necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).
“The fundamental responsibility of the State Board of Elections is to conduct free and fair elections in a manner that facilitates maximum voter participation,” Governor Hogan wrote in a letter to SBE. “This approach—which is already fully authorized by existing state law—will maximize participation in the November election by offering voters more options while minimizing confusion and risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Maryland Association of Election Officials — the professional membership organization comprised of local election officials and Election Boards from all 24 jurisdictions — 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.
MAEO this week sent a letter to the governor urging him 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.
From the MAEO letter:
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 aslong 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.
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, Senate President Ferguson and Chair of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Paul Pinsky recommended a “hybrid mail-in ballot preferred election” in November. The Senate Republican Caucus called 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.