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As Republicans cry foul, Annapolis elections board moves forward with vote-by-mail plan

Voters go to the polls on Election Day 2020 in Anne Arundel County. The Annapolis Board of Supervisors of Elections has approved a plan to mail ballots to every registered voter in the city for the primary and general elections. Some Republicans have criticized the proposal.
Voters go to the polls on Election Day 2020 in Anne Arundel County. The Annapolis Board of Supervisors of Elections has approved a plan to mail ballots to every registered voter in the city for the primary and general elections. Some Republicans have criticized the proposal. (Paul W. Gillespie/Capital Gazette)

As some Annapolis Republicans cry foul, the city’s Board of Supervisors of Elections is moving forward with a vote-by-mail system for the upcoming primary and general elections.

The board met Thursday for its monthly meeting as it continues its election preparations. The meeting was the first since board Chair Eileen Leahy and board member Briayna Cuffie, both Democrats, approved a plan last month to mail ballots to every registered voter in the city for the primary and general elections. Cliff Myers, the board’s Republican member, was late to the meeting. Only two members are needed for a quorum.

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In the weeks since the vote, some city Republicans have criticized the decision.

In an interview last month, Myers said that if he had been present at the May 20 meeting, he would have voted no on the proposal. He did, however, approve of a prior plan to send ballot applications to voters.

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But after further discussions with the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections, which helps the city run its elections, the board opted for the vote-by-mail proposal on May 20.

The city’s primary and general elections are too close together to utilize the ballot application system, said Joe Torre, director of the county elections board, participating in his fourth city election.

“We told them, if you are going to do vote by mail, you can’t do applications, you don’t have enough time,” Torre said.

Under the new plan, voters will be able to return their completed ballot by mail or at a drop box located at each ward’s polling place.

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The policy is in addition to regular in-person voting.

A similar system was used during Maryland 2020 presidential primary election last June before the state opted to use an absentee ballot system in the November general election. Gov. Larry Hogan cited long lines, poor planning and other issues as justification to move away from direct mailing ballots.

Leahy read into the record the names and addresses of a handful of residents who submitted written testimony that criticized the vote-by-mail plan. Some of the testimony echoed claims made by former President Donald Trump that voting by mail would lead to fraud. Despite numerous lawsuits filed by Trump’s lawyer alleging fraud took place, none have been proven or held up in court. President Joe Biden was certified as the winner of the 2020 election. Hogan did not support Trump’s claims.

Steve Strawn, chair of the Annapolis Republican Central Committee, said he thinks voting by mail “has never been done right.”

“You open yourself up to too much fraud,” Strawn said in an interview Thursday. In a letter to the editor in The Capital on June 11, he called the new system “a radical change to the election process” and demanded the board reconsider its vote.

During the meeting, Myers recommended the city and county prepare a contingency for what happens if there are irregularities with ballots. Leahy suggested reaching out to other municipalities that use vote-by-mail, like Rockville, to learn more about best practices.

Roughly 20,000 registered voters will receive a ballot in the city’s closed primaries; In the general election, about 26,000 ballots will be sent out, Torre said. Voters registered as independents don’t participate in primaries.

Election workers will review each ballot to ensure the oath on the envelope has been signed by the voter, he said. If the oath is not signed, the ballot envelope won’t be opened.

If a ballot without a signature is received early enough, and election officials have the contact information of the voter, they will call them to either sign the oath digitally or come to the county elections board office to sign the oath in person, he said.

“The fraud part, to me — after doing this 34 years — it’s like paint drying on a wall,” he said. “They say fraud, but they can never produce it. And, if someone tries to vote twice, we will know it.”

Election preparation

The city has begun preparing a media blitz to inform voters about voting by mail, poll locations, important deadlines and other information.

Mitchelle Stephenson, the city’s public information officer, is heading up the outreach, which will include signage, social media posts, short video clips on monitors around town, and use of the voice alert system managed by the Office of Emergency Management. Other ideas like postcards and bus wraps are also being considered.

On Monday, the city released a short video about voting by mail.

The city has set a deadline of Aug. 16 (ahead of the Sept. 21 primary election) and Oct. 4 (ahead of the Nov. 2 general election) for residents to update their name or home address. The board’s office, located at City Hall, will be open until 9 p.m. on both days.

Leahy stressed that voters need to make sure their information is correct as soon as possible before the elections take place.

With just over a month until the July 26 filing deadline, the board approved the certificate for three more people: Republican Ward 6 candidate George Michael Gallagher; Joshua Falk, Annapolis Democratic Central Committee, Ward 2; and Ward 8 Democratic candidate Kati George.

All eight council seats and the mayor’s office is up for election.

So far, five incumbents, including Mayor Gavin Buckley, Alderwomen Elly Tierney, D-Ward 1, Rhonda Pindell-Charles, D-Ward 3, and Aldermen Brooks Schandelmeier, D-Ward 5, Rob Savidge, D-Ward 7, and Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, have filed for re-election.

With Gallagher and George now officially in the race, there are six primary challengers.

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