Imagine you are one of the growing number of Maryland voters who for any number of reasons (work and family obligations or just sparing yourself further potential exposure to COVID-19), you are casting a mail-in ballot this year. You request the appropriate ballot for where you live (by the July 12 deadline for the July 19 primary election). You fill it out. Then you place it in the provided envelope and deliver it to your local election office as requested, whether by mail or drop box or in-person.
But there’s one thing you forgot: You failed to sign the oath on the outside of the envelope as required. Now what can be done about your mistake?
In 2020, Maryland elections officials recognized the dilemma and made efforts to contact voters so they might, belatedly, come in and sign their ballots. This was a sensible response given the unanticipated uptick in the use of mail-in ballots during the pandemic, but thousands ended up being rejected anyway. There was nothing nefarious here. This was no invitation to rig the outcome. If anyone sought to cast a fraudulent ballot, they could just as easily forged a signature in the first place. But even that possibility is incredibly unlikely. Maryland’s 2020 election produced no widespread fraud. Just as has been the case with previous elections (as has been well documented, whether Donald Trump supporters will admit to it or not).
Now, unfortunately, that safety net is at risk — and for all the wrong reasons. On May 27, Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed 18 bills. One can quibble, perhaps, with the merits of some of the legislation at hand (the tax deductibility of union dues, for example, has long been an issue that divides left-of-center legislators who tend to side with employees versus their right-of-center peers who back employers). But at least one of his choices was downright awful: Governor Hogan vetoed House Bill 862, which would have directed the Maryland State Board of Elections to expand and make permanent regulations requiring local election offices to reach out to voters who failed to sign their envelopes and give them an opportunity to correct their error within three days.
Why would he veto that? That’s the weird part. In his letter explaining his veto of the legislation (and a related election reform bill), Mr. Hogan actually praised much of the contents as offering “positive changes” in state election law but complained about a lack of “balance” suggesting that the absence of signature verification in Maryland gave at least the appearance of potential impropriety. This is, of course, nonsense. Signature verification (comparing a recent signature with a voter’s past examples) might be a useful GOP talking point, but it’s never been a particularly effective way to prevent fraud, which, as we would gently remind the governor, remains rare anyway.
It might also be noted that Governor Hogan did not offer legislation of his own to require Maryland to conduct signature verification this year. So why the sudden interest? Likely because it was a point of contention between Republicans and Democrats in Annapolis in the floor debate over HB 862. Thus, the lame-duck governor with aspirations for higher office has taken advantage of yet another opportunity to ingratiate himself to leading members of his party. Such politicization of what should be a nonpartisan issue is unhelpful but not out of character.
Thankfully, this need not be the last word on the matter on unsigned ballots either in the July primary or the November general election. The Maryland State Board of Elections has the authority to simply direct local boards to do what they did two years ago — reach out to voters who forgot to sign their mail-in ballots and give them a chance to correct that omission. We would urge them to maintain (or improve upon) this practice. In particular, Republicans who represent a 3-to-2 majority on the board, should resist the temptation to cater to the governor’s political interests and maintain Maryland’s longstanding pragmatic approach to running elections.
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