MACo: Election Laws Deserve Much-Needed Reboot

MACo Legislative Director Kevin Kinnally yesterday testified in support of SB 747 – State Board of Elections – Membership, Contract Management, Ballot Drop Boxes, and Voting System Financing. This bill, sponsored by Senator Cheryl Kagan, is a MACo Legislative initiative to clarify and update election laws with an emphasis on fairness, transparency, and accountability.

By clarifying and codifying the 20-year precedent that governs the funding responsibility between the State and counties for voting machines and related systems, this bill delivers stability and predictability for State and local budgets. SB 747 also requires the State Board of Elections (SBE) to take necessary and appropriate steps to provide transparency and accountability for large contracts/procurements, which will afford ample opportunity for input from local governments and Maryland voters.

From the MACo Testimony:

An essential function of Maryland’s county governments is to fund and oversee elections, which proved challenging amidst the pandemic. Current law fails to recognize modern trends in voter preference, capabilities of new technologies, and realities of administering elections in our local communities. Even once health concerns abate, the State’s odd, antiquated mix of laws and practices in governing elections deserves a much-needed reboot.

Too often, the State makes unilateral decisions that oblige county funds ⎯ with zero local input. Counties, who actually run elections, need to be at the table for major contracts and procurement decisions, as part of a true partnership with the State.

Since 2001, the State has relied on uncodified language from one bill to govern the funding responsibility between the State and counties for voting machines and related systems. However, the statutory language is vague, and SBE often makes arbitrary decisions that shift administrative and cost burdens onto local Boards of Elections, whose operations are supported by county funding.

Without proper resources to offset substantial costs for election systems, equipment purchases/leases, equipment storage and transportation, staff compensation and training, and other overhead, these statemandated expenditures represent significant unfunded mandates on county governments. By clarifying and codifying the 20-year precedent for the funding split, this bill delivers stability and predictability for State and local budgets.

The House crossfile, HB 1038, sponsored by Delegate Julie Palakovich Carr, will be heard next week in the Ways and Means Committee.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2021 legislative session on MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database.

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