Just after the start of yesterday’s meeting of the State Board of Elections began, board member Patrick “P.J.” Hogan interrupted to raise his concerns about the November 3 general election and beg his colleagues to approach the issue with more urgency.
“I literally could not sleep last night,” said Hogan, a former Democratic state senator from Montgomery County.
Hogan said he lost sleep because SBE’s plan is not yet set in stone with the election looming less than 90 days away.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who is not related to the board member, last month directed SBE to conduct a traditional election, with all precincts open. He told the board to send voters applications for mail-in ballots – rather than mailing the ballots themselves, as was the process during the June primary.
But Maryland has a shortage of more than 14,000 poll workers, in part because many seniors don’t want to risk their health for the election. The coronavirus has spread more rapidly across Maryland in the last few weeks.
The governor has faced fierce opposition from voting rights and public health advocates, who favor a hybrid or mostly mail-in election similar to the primary.
He said printing errors, long lines and too few polling places made the June election an “unmitigated disaster.” The election, however, saw record turnout in Baltimore and no allegations of fraud.
Waffling on Format
P.J. Hogan urged the board, which has three Republican and two Democratic members, to come to a consensus and issue a recommendation to the governor before time runs out. The governor had made his decision after the board split between supporting the hybrid and mostly mail-in options, taking no firm stand.
“I’m pleading with the board to recommend mailing every registered voter a ballot, and as many election day sites as possible with the staffing that the [local boards] can produce,” he said, suggesting that Maryland’s 282 high schools could be opened as polling sites on election day.
“This is all an act of futility if the governor does not change his thinking” – Board Member William Voelp.
Fellow Democratic board member Malcolm L. Funn agreed. He said mailing applications for mail-in ballots is a waste of money when SBE could mail the ballots.
Republican member William G. Voelp opposed mailing all voters ballots without applications, and said it seemed that Gov. Hogan had made up his mind.
“This is all an act of futility if the governor does not change his thinking,” Voelp said. “I think we need to move to make it the best we can.”
The board decided, after meeting for over three hours – an hour of which was closed to the public – not to make a recommendation to the governor, but to meet again Friday afternoon to finalize that recommendation.
It also decided to move up the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot by standard mail or email to October 20, or two weeks before election day.
Register to vote and apply for a mail-in ballot here.
Meanwhile, an SBE official said the state received more than 40,000 applications for email ballots by the end of July.
Ballot scanners can’t process those ballots, printed by voters on standard paper. Instead, election workers will manually have to copy those votes onto scannable ballots, which could significantly delay results.