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In defense of Larry Hogan’s election plan | COMMENTARY

Ann Vinup, Parkville, takes part in Chesapeake Climate Action Network's "Fight to Vote" rally outside the House of Delegates building. They are asking Gov. Larry Hogan to reverse his decision for in-person voting on Election Day in November and requiring voters to request an application for an absentee ballot. They feel this puts too many people at risk and may suppress the vote.
Ann Vinup, Parkville, takes part in Chesapeake Climate Action Network's "Fight to Vote" rally outside the House of Delegates building. They are asking Gov. Larry Hogan to reverse his decision for in-person voting on Election Day in November and requiring voters to request an application for an absentee ballot. They feel this puts too many people at risk and may suppress the vote. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

It’s the nature of politics today — no matter what the decision, no matter what the circumstances — that you will be criticized. One man’s idealist is another man’s cynic. There’s no winning.

For evidence of such dynamics in play, look no further than Gov. Larry Hogan’s attempts to pull off a pandemic-era election. In his effort to provide Marylanders with as many options as possible to vote, Governor Hogan has found himself at the center of a flurry of criticism from both the left and the right, both sides unhappy with the governor’s common-sense policies.

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Let’s be clear: The governor’s change in election-day policies is a thoughtful response to the blatant shortcomings of June’s primary. To have 1 million absentee ballots delayed, coupled with hourslong lines at the polls is unacceptable. Governor Hogan’s response and action demonstrates a humble commitment to putting voters before partisan loyalties.

In adopting an “all-of-the-above” election plan, Mr. Hogan has made an effort to cater to every voter. By providing provisions that keep regular polling centers open, he has given an option to those with disabilities and wary of voting by mail. At the same time, Maryland will send every registered voter an absentee ballot application — a move essential to protecting public health on Election Day.

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Still, no one’s happy. Republicans are complaining that the governor has left the state’s system open to fraud, while the Maryland Association of Election Officials is arguing that the governor is now leaving too many polling locations open, arguing instead for a limited number of mega-centers. (Because that went so well in Kentucky).

Perhaps indignant disapproval from the left and right is validation of Governor Hogan’s nonpartisan success. In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, Governor Hogan is doing his best to ensure election integrity and security.

Certainly, Mr. Hogan’s plan isn’t perfect. The shortage of willing poll workers will undoubtedly shutter more than a few polling locations, and, ideally, I would like every voter to be guaranteed a mail-in ballot. To his credit, Mr. Hogan understands this; he’s adopted the State Election Board’s plan to staff only a fraction of the physical voting locations.

With no clear road map to follow, and no definitive manual to adhere by, Mr. Hogan should be applauded for being brave enough to stand up to the president. Nationwide, there have been few conservative policymakers willing to invest political capital to address the challenge of this November’s election. He’s doing what we want all elected officials to be doing: putting voters first to ensure that everyone can have their voices heard.

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Perhaps it’s easier for him since he is in his last term as governor and will not face reelection. Or, perhaps he is simply more courageous than other leaders who simply follow their party lines.

Either way, the success of November’s election is now up to the rest of us. It’s time for Marylanders to show their commitment to one another to ensure a successful election. This means we need our young and healthy residents to volunteer at polling locations; up to a third of election judge positions remain vacant, and are desperately needed if we’re going to keep polling places open.

We need voters to request their ballots early and return them early as well. About 73% of Marylanders plan on voting by mail this year, up from just 6% in 2016. Our postal service will be under strain from the uptick of mail volume; by flattening the curve of demand, deliverability and send times can improve.

Finally, we need the federal government to step up to provide funding for personal protective equipment to keep polling places and workers safe. Governor Hogan understands that voters shouldn’t have to choose between their safety and exercising their right to vote. His efforts to make this a reality should be commended.

Neal Simon (neal@nealsimon.com) is a Maryland business executive and a 2018 independent candidate for U.S. Senate who sits on the board of Unite America, a bipartisan group working to bridge the growing partisan divide and foster a more representative and functional government. He is also the author of “The Contract to Unite America” (RealClear Publishing).

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