Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) on Friday blasted Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s recent decision to hold a traditional election in November, saying requiring voters to apply for mail-in ballots could suppress thousands of votes.
In a written statement, Frosh said Hogan’s plan limits voters’ options in November, and demanded that Maryland hold the November election primarily by mail. He said Hogan was folding to partisan pressure in his decision to require voters to fill out an application if they want vote-by-mail ballots.
“Bowing to Donald Trump’s reckless demands for in-person voting puts at risk the lives of Maryland citizens and risks disenfranchising many thousands of eligible voters,” Frosh wrote. “Governor Hogan should immediately reverse course and authorize a vote-by-mail election in the November presidential election.”
Although advocates, Democratic lawmakers and local election officials pleaded with Hogan to hold another vote-by-mail election, the governor announced this week that voters would be mailed absentee ballot applications.
“The fundamental responsibility of the State Board of Elections is to conduct free and fair elections in a manner that facilitates maximum voter participation,” Hogan said in a Wednesday statement after releasing his election plan. “This approach — which is already fully authorized by existing state law — will maximize participation in the November election by offering voters more options while minimizing confusion and risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Republican members of the State Board of Elections and prominent GOP lawmakers had previously raised a red flag over mailing every registered voter a ballot. They said that requiring voters to fill out an application limits the chance for voter fraud.
Frosh tore into those arguments in his statement, pointing out that voter fraud is extremely rare in states that already conduct mail-in elections.
“The data reveals the ‘voter fraud’ argument itself to be a fraud,” the attorney general wrote. “Massive voter fraud is exceedingly rare because of the checks and balances that our election processes have in place to prevent it.”
Through his spokesman, Hogan hit back at Frosh late Friday afternoon.
“Brian Frosh is now suggesting that we ignore our election laws, limit options for voters, and suppress the vote by closing polling precincts,” the spokesman, Michael Ricci, said in a statement. “We will do none of that. We will follow the law, and actively encourage early voting, absentee voting-by-mail, and voting at off-peak times as safe and efficient options for voters.”
Although Frosh as attorney general is technically the lawyer for Hogan’s administration and all of state government, the two have had an uneasy relationship since winning their statewide offices in 2014.
Hogan announced his intention to hold a more traditional election days after the Maryland Association of Election Officials called on him to hold a mail-in election. David Garreis, the association’s president, said local election officials simply don’t have the resources to process thousands of applications in a Monday letter.
“We cannot overstate the devastating consequences likely to result if the State of Maryland does not plan now to mail every voter a ballot for the 2020 Presidential General Election,” Garreis, the deputy director of the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections, wrote to Hogan, state Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone and state Board of Elections Chairman Michael R. Cogan.
Requiring voters to fill out applications before they receive their mail-in ballot has been attempted in other states. Georgia and Washington, D.C., both required voters to fill out applications if they wanted to vote by mail in their recent primaries.
The District of Columbia has since announced it would mail every voter a ballot for the November elections, with its board of elections saying it was overwhelmed by the massive amount of ballot requests.
In Georgia, voters seemed to use absentee ballots after they were mailed applications for the state’s June primary, but some were left waiting for weeks before their ballot requests were processed. Other voters reportedly didn’t receive their ballots at all.
Late ballot deliveries and long lines on election day were problems in Maryland’s largely vote-by-mail primary. Every registered voter was mailed a ballot for the state’s June 2 election, but many received ballots weeks later than expected. Others received incorrect ballots, and those who opted to vote in person were met with long lines on election day.
Hogan vowed to expand in-person voting options for the November election, and said the State Board of Elections should encourage voters to use absentee ballots.
While Maryland’s mail-in primary was rife with errors, it also saw very high voter turnout as voters seemed to embrace mail-in ballots. Frosh said emphasizing an in-person election won’t just decrease turnout – but also put lives at risk.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic that is burning out of control,” Frosh wrote. “In Maryland more than 3,250 lives have already been lost. Requiring voters to appear in person to cast their ballots unnecessarily puts voters’ lives and the lives of poll workers at risk.”
The State Board of Elections indicated it would comply with Hogan’s orders in a Wednesday afternoon news release.
“The Board will move forward with plans for a traditional general election on November 3rd and will expand efforts to promote voting by mail, early voting, and voting at off-peak times,” the statement said. “The Board will continue to work closely with local boards of elections, stakeholders, and the general public to conduct a safe and accessible general election.”
By Bennett Leckrone