MACo on General Election: State Should Pay Extra Ballot Costs

Screen Shot 2020-08-18 at 12.35.54 PMMACo today sent a letter to the State Board of Elections (SBE) Chair, Patrick Cogan, urging the Board to formally recommend that the state pay the total cost (printing, mailing, and return postage) for mail-in ballot applications in advance of the general election.

While state statute mandates that counties pay half of the postage costs for mail-in ballots, Governor Hogan’s directive for SBE to send all registered voters mail-in ballot applications — rather than mail-in ballots — will result in unforeseen and substantial costs for local boards of elections, whose operations are supported by county funding.

Senator Cheryl Kagan, Vice Chair of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Committee — which has subject matter oversight of election issues — went to bat for county governments and local boards of elections by advocating for additional state resources to pay for the additional mailing.

“Our 24 jurisdictions, which neither suggested nor supported this extra mailing, should not have to foot the bill to pay for it,” Senator Kagan wrote in a letter to the Board. “The timing of the Governor’s proclamation means that our counties were unable to budget for this additional financial obligation. To be clear, the pandemic has already stretched local resources; it is unreasonable to add another unexpected and unfunded mandate.”

SBE estimates that it will cost up to $5.6 million to prepare and mail ballot applications, with the return postage alone costing up to $3 million. Without state resources to offset these large costs, the order represents a significant unfunded mandate on local governments.

From the MACo letter:

As counties work to protect their residents, local businesses, and economies from the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are making significant financial investments to address immediate public health and safety needs. At the same time, counties are experiencing massive and unparalleled declines in revenue as a result of the economic downturn.

MACo does not seek to revisit the process necessitating the extra mailer. Our concerns are merely practical and cost-driven, at the implementation level. As such, MACo requests the Board to formally recommend that the State pay the total cost (printing, mailing, and return postage) for ballot applications.

Counties welcome your partnership during this crisis, and stand ready to collaborate on the responses needed to protect Marylanders across the state.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Maryland Association of Election Officials (MAEO) — the professional membership organization comprised of local election officials and Election Boards from all 24 jurisdictions — previously warned that sending mail-in ballot applications instead of mail-in ballots would result in voter confusion, long lines at the polling places, and increased costs.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Governor Larry Hogan last week approved an SBE plan to designate each of Maryland’s 282 high schools as vote centers — places where any county resident can vote, regardless of their precinct — for the November 3 election.

On early voting days, approximately 80 vote centers will open statewide. On November 3, approximately 350 vote centers will be open statewide.

Voters may cast their ballot at any vote center in their county of residence. SBE also plans to make at least 127 ballot drop boxes available statewide.

Each registered voter who has not already requested a mail-in ballot will be mailed a mail-in ballot application. In the meantime, voters who know they want to vote-by-mail may request a mail-in ballot via SBE.

How to Request a Mail-In Ballot

Any registered voter may vote by mail-in ballot. Marylanders do not need a reason to vote by mail-in ballot. It is simply another way for residents to vote if they do not want to or cannot vote an early voting center or vote center.

There are three ways a resident can request a mail-in ballot.

* SBE will mail this form to each eligible voter who hadn’t already requested a ballot. If you already submitted a form, you do not need to submit another one. Use SBE’s Voter Look-Up website to check that you submitted a request.

In order to receive a mail-in ballot for the general election, SBE must receive the request by October 20, 2020.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Useful Links

MACo Letter to SBE (August 18, 2020)

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Here’s How Many Marylanders Have Requested Mail-In Ballots… So Far

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: State Board Approves Early Voting Days for General Election

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Hogan Approves Plan to Open Vote Centers for Nov 3 Election

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: State Board to Governor: Designate All High Schools as Vote Centers On Election Day

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Local Officials Make Final Appeal to Avoid “Catastrophic Failure” on Election Day

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Hogan Demands Update on Mail-In Ballots, Polling Places for Nov Election

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Local Election Directors: Emergency Pollworker Shortage Will Lead to Long Lines, Voter Confusion

Letter from MAEO (July 23, 2020)

Conduit Street Podcast: Wrestling With Reopening

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: State Board Seeks Additional $20M for Nov Election

Letter from State Administrator LindaLamone (July 21, 2020)

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Several County Leaders Ask Hogan to Reconsider Directive for Nov Election

County Letter to Governor Hogan (July 14, 2020)

Maryland Congressional Delegation Letter to Governor Hogan (July 9, 2020)

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Local Election Directors Ask Hogan to Reject “Ill-Advised” Plan for Nov Election

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

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