Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) slammed the Maryland State Board of Elections in a letter Monday, demanding to know why voters haven’t been mailed applications to request mail-in ballots yet.
In his letter, Hogan gave the State Board of Elections 48 hours to explain why those ballot applications have not been mailed to voters, and reiterated his call for election officials to open every available polling center for the Nov. 3 general election.
“Under existing law, and to save voters the extra step of having to request an application for an absentee ballot, I directed you to promptly mail applications to every single Maryland registered voter,“ Hogan wrote. “It has now been 26 days, and you have failed to take action.”
Hogan’s letter came as state election officials are looking for a new vendor to do printing for the November election. State Election Administrator Linda H. Lamone has blamed printing vendor SeaChange for late and incorrect ballot deliveries in the June 2 primary.
The State Board of Elections issued a request for proposals from printers last month. Officials hope to have a contract in place by Aug. 17 so the new vendor can prepare for the unprecedented tasks of mailing millions of registered voters both applications for ballots and actual ballots during a pandemic.
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore city) responded to Hogan’s letter with a detailed timeline that Lamone sent to him and Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s). In that letter, dated July 30, Lamone wrote that the State Board plans to approve a revised mail-in ballot application by Aug. 5.
Maryland voters should start receiving mail-in ballot applications, with pre-paid return envelopes, after they are mailed on Aug. 28, according to Lamone’s letter. Mail-in ballots will be sent starting Sept. 24, according to her timeline.
Election officials across the state have scrambled to find election workers and polling centers since Hogan announced his intent to hold a more traditional election in November. Advocates have repeatedly asked Hogan to reverse course and hold another largely mail-in election, as Maryland did for the June 2 primary. But Hogan said state law requires in-person polling centers to be open.
“Let me be clear — this is not ‘my plan,’ it is what Maryland law requires you to do,” Hogan wrote.
The governor also slammed local officials who want to limit the number of in-person locations for voting in the general election. Hogan wrote that he’d received a letter from Prince George’s County officials requesting to close 229 precincts and only open 15. Hogan said such a move would suppress voters of color.
“Local leaders have suggested massive closures of polling places, particularly in some of our minority communities,” Hogan wrote. “This would likely result in voter suppression and disenfranchisement on a significant scale, disparately impacting Marylanders of color.”
Democratic lawmakers, local election officials and voting rights advocates have, in turn, accused Hogan of voter suppression due to his decision to require voters to apply for a mail-in ballot instead of automatically sending them one.
By Bennett Leckrone
Letters to Editor
Marge Fallaw says
Maryland ought to consult Oregon’s online manual as a model for how to conduct elections entirely by mail (and by use of dedicated ballot-deposit boxes in selected locations). Oregon has been conducting all its elections this way for about 20 years (and before that for some of them). Registered-voter turnout rates have been high than with in-person and traditional absentee voting, and polls show a high approval rating for this method by both Republican and Democratic voters. There’s been a vanishingly small amount of fraudulent voting and procedural malpractice. There’s no reason for Maryland to reinvent the wheel, especially since over time Oregon presumably has gotten the kinks out of the system. Our present Gov. is apparently adamant (for several possible reasons) about not wanting to mail ballots to all registered voters for the Nov. elections (as was done for the June primary), and indeed time is now quite short for deciding on methods and procedures. But citizens need to advocate for converting fully to by-mail (and deposit-box) voting by the next elections (in 2022). And, meantime, the local elections boards need to work at, for instance, cleaning up their registration records by removing deceased voters and voters who have moved out of state, to the extent possible.
Grenville B. Whitman says
Confronting the problem of voting during this health emergency, Larry Hogan’s reluctance to back an inclusive mail-in election is a puzzle.
Any difference between absentee voting and mail-in voting is imaginary.
No voter should be forced to choose between their health and safety and their right to vote.
Given the threat of Covid-19 to voters and to poll workers, Governor Hogan should be directing the State Board of Elections to provide mail-in ballots to all registered voters.