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Editorial

Dan Cox wants to delay Maryland election results, here’s why that’s a bad idea | COMMENTARY

Republican gubernatorial candidate Del. Dan Cox visits a water distribution event in the Penn-North neighborhood of West Baltimore on Sept. 8, 2022. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun).

Just when you think that Del. Dan Cox, the Republican nominee to be Maryland’s next governor, has put the Donald Trump-type election conspiracy theories behind him, he happily dives right back in.

Recently, the 48-year-old Frederick County attorney gave legal notice that he is opposing the effort by the Maryland State Board of Elections to count mail-in ballots in a more timely manner for the upcoming Nov. 8 general election. That the board has to jump through some hoops to do what their counterparts in other states do routinely — that is, not wait until two days after the election to begin counting mail-in ballots — is fairly ridiculous to begin with.

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We’ve seen the consequences of waiting to count ballots, and they are not pretty. Certain conspiracy-minded individuals will inevitably view delays in posting election results with deep suspicion. This is part of the Trump “Stop the Steal” legacy, and — given how there’s absolutely no compelling evidence of significant voter fraud in Maryland or anywhere else in the United States — such conspiracy theories ought not be reinforced by unnecessary delays.

Earlier this year, the Maryland General Assembly approved legislation to change the mail-in count procedure. Gov. Larry Hogan had already signed an executive order allowing it during the COVID-19 pandemic, but he vetoed the legislative remedy arguing that it lacked security measures. Specifically, he did not like how the bill allowed voters who had mistakenly failed to sign the ballot envelope to correct that through their local election board either in-person or electronically.

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Cox is going much further issuing a statement that observes that the governor’s original emergency order has already expired and claims the board’s current effort to get court-permission to process ballots earlier “undermines trust in the outcome of elections.” The board’s case is scheduled to be heard in a Montgomery County courtroom on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

One can certainly argue that a legislative remedy to this problem is better than an administrative one, but why argue at this point when the problem is so clear and the solution so readily available? The allegation that it undermines election credibility is itself incredible given how Pennsylvania’s late counting of mail-in ballots in 2020 spurred Trump supporters to claim fraud. So, which is more suspicious: early counting or late counting? One presumes it all depends on what lies serve one’s purpose at any given moment.

Let’s face it, Delegate Cox is not exactly a reliable source when it comes to election fraud. One of the reasons he has the full-throated endorsement of the 45th president is that he happily promoted the ridiculous claims of a stolen election. As amusing as it’s been to watch the extremist candidate pivot toward the middle after his surprising victory over the more politically moderate and Hogan-favored Kelly Schulz in the GOP primary (including deleting hundreds of social media posts from the white nationalist-oriented Gab platform), this is still the same guy who bragged about working for Trump as a “volunteer lawyer” in Pennsylvania and who once claimed to be “co-hosting” buses to the infamous Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C.

We would grant this one narrow codicil to mail-in ballots: We would expect that, as results are tabulated by local and state elections officials, the running tally would not be disclosed to the public until after the polls are closed on Nov. 8. The danger here is that knowing the votes so far (whether, for example, Cox or his Democratic opponent Wes Moore is performing well or poorly) might influence turnout or voting patterns. That would be inappropriate, but we understand officials have already made preparations to guard against this unlikely possibility.

Still, this matter needs to be resolved quickly. Mail-in ballots are expected to go out by the end of the month. Maryland voters have a lot of important choices to make, but they ought to do so in the knowledge that their votes will be handled responsibly. Election season has begun, and we fully expect a the falsehoods will fly. That’s the nature of politics, particularly in the Trump era, when gaslighting has become a fairly standard practice. The referees of this enterprise — whether paid or volunteer — ought not be dragged into the mud with baseless claims of fraud that undermine public confidence. The goal here is simply to produce a clean, accessible, transparent and efficient election.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.


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