The Maryland State Board of Elections (SBE) yesterday voted unanimously to request additional state funding to pay for mail-in ballot applications. The additional funding — which must be approved by the Department of Budget and Management — would alleviate a significant unfunded mandate on county governments.
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.
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.
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.”
As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo sent a letter to the Board requesting a formal vote to recommend that the State pay the total cost (printing, mailing, and return postage) for ballot applications.
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.
Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.