MACo 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.
- Online if you have a Maryland driver’s license or MVA-issued ID card.
- Complete and return one of the forms below. Read the instructions, enter the required information, print the form, sign it, and return it to your local board of elections. You can return it by mail, fax, or email (scanned as an attachment).
- Go to your local board of elections and fill out and turn in the form.
* 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.