Ho­gan out­lines plan for vot­ers in up­com­ing elec­tion

Dorchester Star - - NEWS -

AN­NAPO­LIS — With 118 days un­til the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion, Gov. Larry Ho­gan on Wed­nes­day, July 8, di­rected the State Board of Elec­tions to fol­low ex­ist­ing state law and con­duct the elec­tion with en­hanced vot­ing op­tions in light of the COVID-19 pan­demic:

• Ev­ery early vot­ing cen­ter should be open and ev­ery polling lo­ca­tion should be open on Elec­tion Day to ac­com­mo­date any­one who wishes to cast their bal­lot safely and in per­son.

• To en­sure that ev­ery Mary­lan­der who wants to vote by mail can vote by mail, SBE should promptly send out an ab­sen­tee bal­lot re­quest ap­pli­ca­tion to ev­ery el­i­gi­ble Mary­land voter.

• Ev­ery ef­fort should be made to pro­mote early vot­ing, ab­sen­tee vot­ing by mail, and vot­ing at off­peak times as safe and ef­fi­cient op­tions.

Of his di­rec­tion to the SBE re­gard­ing voter op­tions dur­ing the up­com­ing elec­tion, Ho­gan said the “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.”

“The fun­da­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity of the State Board of Elec­tions is to con­duct free and fair elec­tions in a man­ner that facilitate­s max­i­mum voter par­tic­i­pa­tion,” the gov­er­nor said.

Ho­gan also in­formed the SBE that the state will en­cour­age state em­ploy­ees to help sup­ple­ment elec­tion staffing needs, and pro­vide any nec­es­sary per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment (PPE). Polling places, he said, should fol­low CDC guide­lines and pub­lic health pro­to­cols, and stress the im­por­tance of proper san­i­ti­za­tion, phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing, and face cov­er­ings.

In re­sponse to Ho­gan’s de­ci­sion, Se­nate Pres­i­dent Bill Fer­gu­son, D-46-Bal­ti­more City, and House Speaker Adri­enne Jones, D-10-Bal­ti­more County, is­sued a joint state­ment say­ing they were “pleased” the gov­er­nor “fi­nally made a de­ci­sion that in­cluded early vot­ing and elec­tion­day precinct level vot­ing.”

But Jones and Fer­gu­son ac­knowl­edged they were con­cerned that “lo­cal elec­tion of­fi­cials will not have the staff or re­sources to process that many Vote By Mail ap­pli­ca­tions in a timely man­ner.”

The leg­isla­tive lead­ers said Ho­gan “must pro­vide the nec­es­sary re­sources to the lo­cal and state boards for per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment, ad­di­tional staff and a ro­bust aware­ness cam­paign.”

“We hope the Gov­er­nor will main­tain max­i­mum flex­i­bil­ity so that, should the pan­demic worsen, or elec­tion judges are un­able to be found, we can pivot to en­sure that no Mary­land voter is dis­en­fran­chised,” they said. “It is now in­cum­bent upon ev­ery elec­tion of­fi­cial and elected leader to work to­gether to make this elec­tion a suc­cess. Fail­ure is not an op­tion.”

Across the aisle, Sen. Steve Her­shey, R-36-Up­per Shore, wrote in a state­ment that the Se­nate Repub­li­can Cau­cus had ex­pressed con­cerns about elec­tion se­cu­rity and “warned mail­ing thou­sands of un­marked bal­lots could cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for fraud.”

“We ap­pre­ci­ate the Gov­er­nor ac­knowl­edg­ing our con­cerns and dis­miss­ing any sug­ges­tions that called for the un­so­licited mail­ing of thou­sands of bal­lots,” Her­shey wrote.

In a let­ter to the SBE dated July 8, Ho­gan urged the elec­tion board to avoid a “politi­cized process” as it moves for­ward with its plan­ning.

“While I know you have been in­un­dated with sug­ges­tions from po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in both par­ties and spe­cial in­ter­est groups to change the elec­toral process, this dis­cus­sion should not be sub­ject to un­due par­ti­san­ship or po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence,” Ho­gan wrote, adding that “pro­vid­ing cit­i­zens with accessible, ac­count­able, and trans­par­ent ways to cast their bal­lot is an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of our demo­cratic repub­lic and your pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

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