As former chair of the Election Law Subcommittee in the House of Delegates, I focus much of my policy energy on improving our voting experience. Our dynamic system must move toward a place where everyone who is allowed to vote can vote in a convenient, safe and transparent process. The fact is that extensive barriers remain on the journey to the ballot box, serving as roadblocks to civic activism. House Bill 274 ensures that every legal voter in the state gets a ballot in the mail that they can choose to take to the polls to vote or mail in at their convenience.
Voters must take their time on a work day to cast their ballot. Those with children may need to arrange child care, and long lines at polling places can lead to an hours-long wait. New voters and college students may not understand the process or deadlines behind absentee ballot requests. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic response has called for reduced capacity for social distancing, masks and a reduction in the number of available polling places, only worsening these “roadblocks to voting.
While this bill is particularly important amid the pandemic, its impact will outlast the era of social distancing. It is vital that our state has the voting infrastructure in place to easily continue our electoral processes in the event of a federal, state or even local emergency.
Voting should not be met with so many challenges. Barriers should be broken down in order to ensure we have truly representative elections, wherein each and every voter has a say in who is elected to represent their interests. House Bill 274 addresses these barriers by automatically providing a ballot to all eligible voters in the state. Currently, a sample ballot is provided to each eligible voter so that individuals can see what their ballot will look like before heading into the voting booth. If H.B. 274 were passed, the sample ballots could be replaced with no additional cost to taxpayers, and each voter can have unlimited and unpressured time to consider their choices and then take the ballot to the polling place to deposit during early voting or on Election Day, avoiding any frustrating lines that tend to accumulate at certain polling places. The voter could also choose to discard the mailed ballot and vote in person or mail in the ballot to avoid polling places altogether.
The concerns brought up by opponents do not hold any weight. Firstly, this bill will provide every voter with a mail-in ballot, but it does not mandate a vote by mail. In fact, many individuals will still prefer to vote in person, either during Early Voting periods or on Election Day. Secondly, it will not necessarily make Maryland a primarily vote-by-mail state, it simply gives voters more control over their method of voting by eliminating deadlines and forms associated with requesting a mail-in ballot. Implementing H.B. 274 will not cause increased or widespread voter fraud. There has been no indication of fraudulent votes as a result of the drastic increase in absentee voting and mailed ballots in our recent elections. Maryland has existing safeguards in place to ensure that individuals are not able to vote more than once. Furthermore, no one is harvesting small amounts of mailed ballots to try to change election results because everyone knows that voter fraud is a felony that will put a convicted culprit in jail for years.
Not only will this bill create a system that ensures continuance of electoral processes in an emergency, it will further improve voter turnout in our state. Nearly 73,000 more voters sent in a ballot during the 2020 election. Better turnout ultimately results in better representation. We have an opportunity to provide our citizens with better avenues for voting by passing this bill. By providing every eligible voter in the state with a ballot, Maryland will make significant strides in voter turnout, accessibility and representation.
Del. Jon S. Cardin (firstname.lastname@example.org) represents Baltimore County in the Maryland House of Representatives.