Montgomery Council Calls for General Election to Be Held Primarily By Mail

Montgomery County Council passes resolution seeking to make voting as easy and as safe as possible; urges Governor Hogan to change course on in-person voting for the general election.

EeHXkQ7XgAYZZBPThe Montgomery County Council yesterday unanimously passed a resolution calling for Governor Larry Hogan to change course on his plan to mail registered voters an absentee ballot application and instead mail registered voters a ballot for the November 3 general election with a prepaid postage return envelope.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, under Governor Hogan’s plan, all in-person voting locations will be open and voters will be mailed an absentee ballot application (instead of an absentee ballot).

“Maryland should learn from June’s primary election and build on it for November,” said Council Vice President Tom Hucker. “Substantially changing the procedures for the general election now will confuse voters, undermine confidence, add costs, and create unnecessary health risks for voters, staff, and volunteers. We urge the state to reconsider.”

“Gov. Hogan should heed the call of so many Maryland residents–many here in Montgomery County,” said Council President Sidney Katz. “During this worldwide pandemic, the best way to ensure the health and safety of our residents and stop the spread of COVID-19 is to limit interactions as much as possible. This is best accomplished by mail-in voting, and mailing ballots to every voter is the best way to achieve this.”

In addition, the Council is requesting that touch-free drop boxes be provided for voters to submit their completed ballots, and that local election boards be empowered to recommend the appropriate number of early voting sites and polling places after consulting with their County Health Officers.

The resolution was spearheaded by Council Vice President Tom Hucker and Council Members Nancy Navarro and Gabe Albornoz and was sponsored by the entire Council.

According to a Council press release:

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and numerous health experts have recommended that voters consider alternatives to casting ballots in person, on July 8 Gov. Hogan ordered the opening of polling places and early voting centers across the state.

“I am proud to lend my name to this resolution, calling for common-sense solutions to help our residents exercise their democratic rights during this pandemic,” said Councilmember Nancy Navarro. “Preserving the right to vote while taking appropriate steps to ensure public health is one of the foremost challenges of this crisis. We urge Gov. Hogan to consider the lessons learned during the 2020 Presidential Primary Election and use them to serve as key guidance to implement a successful mail-in 2020 Presidential General Election. The Council stands ready to provide whatever assistance it can at the local level to ensure our democratic process operates as smoothly as possible, with as few barriers as possible for eligible voters.”

Maryland election officials have warned the governor that processing absentee ballot applications might overwhelm elections systems. Moreover, both state and county election officials have expressed concerns about whether enough poll workers and election judges can be recruited for in-person voting amid the pandemic because many are older residents who are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 complications.

Councilmember Gabe Albornoz said, “In the coming general election, the safety of our voters, election judges and other election officials is paramount. Our top election official is telling us that we will not have enough judges to conduct this election without long lines and serious safety issues. The end result with the current approach will be the disenfranchisement of our voters.”

The Council resolution states that requiring voters to appear in person to cast their ballots unnecessarily puts voters’ lives and the lives of poll workers at risk. In Maryland as of July 28, there are 85,524 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,327 deaths, and in Montgomery County there are 17,230 confirmed cases and 748 deaths. Maryland has been operating under a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic since March 5.

“We must make voting as easy as possible, as accessible as possible and as safe as possible,” said Councilmember Andrew Friedson. “And we need to follow the consensus of local elections experts and public health officials. Gov. Hogan’s disappointing decision to not offer automatic mail-in ballots clearly restricts access and does not follow the experts’ guidance and advice.”

The resolution also states that Gov. Hogan’s change in strategy from the primary election, where most registered voters automatically received their ballots by mail, could confuse voters, who will not understand that they need to apply for absentee ballots for the general election. Mailing a ballot to all registered voters would eliminate this issue and help to maximize voter participation.

Read the Council’s letter to Governor Hogan here.