Hogan outlines plan for voters in upcoming election
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.”