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Tomlinson: 2020 primary election was a disaster; Hogan’s plan for the general is sound | COMMENTARY

On July 8, Gov. Larry Hogan announced the plan for Maryland’s general election on Nov. 3: All polling places will be open and absentee ballot request applications will be mailed to every eligible voter. He also made it clear that “every effort should be made to promote early voting, absentee voting by mail, and voting at off-peak times as safe and efficient options” due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

As expected, this provoked an outcry from Democratic elected officials around the state. Attorney General Brian Frosh said, “Governor Hogan’s plan does not enhance voting options. It takes voting options away from Marylanders. Frosh continued, “… it threatens to suppress the votes of hundreds of thousands of our citizens.” Senate President Bill Ferguson that it will be an “unnecessary hurdle” to require voters to apply for an absentee ballot.

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Compare the debacle that was June’s primary to the governor’s vision for the general election to grasp how the governor’s plan will “suppress” the votes of Marylanders in November.

In the 2020 primary, all early voting was canceled. In the 2020 general, eight days of early voting will take place at select locations as usual. How does giving voters eight days to drive to his or her local early voting center to vote possibly limit voting options?

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In the 2020 primary, Baltimore, which normally has over 200 polling places open, only had six in-person voting centers open on Election Day. Carroll County had two polling places operating, compared to the normal 36 voting centers operating. In the 2020 general, all polling places will be open across the state. In other words, if you are a Carroll resident living in the northwestern village of Harney and you wanted to vote in person in June, you had to drive out to the Westminster Senior and Community Center or South Carroll Swim Club in Winfield. In November, folks in Harney can go back to voting at their normal precinct on election day at Northwest Middle School, less than 10 minutes away.

In the 2020 primary, every registered voter received an absentee ballot via mail. In the 2020 general, every registered voter will be mailed an application to request an absentee ballot. Guess how voters normally obtain an absentee ballot? He or she submits an application by snail mail or completes an application online. While it is true that every voter will not be receiving a mail-in ballot like they did in June, every voter will receive an absentee ballot application, which is not typically provided during Maryland elections.

The reason for the governor’s decision is simple: “I remain concerned about the series of failures that — while not intended — potentially resulted in disenfranchisement and suppression of primary voters,” Hogan wrote in a letter to the State Board of Elections. “Thousands of Marylanders either did not receive their ballots or received erroneous or late ballots, and thousands more stood in lines for many hours on primary day.”

Although Carroll County’s mail-in ballot process in the 2020 primary election was pulled off with few issues, the same could not be said for the rest of Maryland.

In Prince George’s County, 90,000 voters received mail-in ballots that only provided instructions in Spanish, instead of in both English and Spanish. In Montgomery County, a whole slew of ballots were delivered late and many were deemed “undeliverable” by the U.S. Postal Service.

It comes as no surprise that Baltimore was the epicenter of most of the problems surrounding the mail-in ballots. There were major complications with the vendor hired to print and send the ballots out; for example, it claimed ballots were sent when they had not been. On Election Night, the State Board of Elections website showed that challenger Paris Bienert had 98% of the vote compared to 2% for Councilman Zeke Cohen in the District 1 race for City Council, which was obviously an error. The city’s partial election results were then pulled down from the web so ballots could be processed by hand because misprinted ballots were causing errors as they were scanned.

At the June 3 Maryland Board of Public Works meeting, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford asked State Administrator of Elections Linda Lamone, appointed to her position in 1997, to resign, and Comptroller Peter Franchot suggested she retire. Although Lamone has not resigned, most Republican and Democratic elected officials agree that the 2020 primary election was a colossal failure in Maryland’s largest jurisdictions.

The day after June’s election, Hogan commented on the problematic primary by saying, “All of this is completely unacceptable.” The governor is correct. The election was a disaster in many ways, and the governor has a solution for November to ensure that all voters in Maryland have an opportunity to cast their votes in a free and fair election.

Christopher Tomlinson, a member of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, writes from Melrose. Email him at CCTtomlinson@gmail.com.

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