Gov. Larry Hogan warns Maryland State Board of Elections against ‘wholesale’ closures of polling places

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has warned the State Board of Elections against the “wholesale” closure of polling places across the state to accommodate an election judge shortage.

In a letter delivered on the eve of the board’s Friday meeting when it is slated to consider nearly a dozen proposals to consolidate poll locations, Hogan said he would not interfere with the board’s authority to make such decisions, but he cautioned that large-scale consolidations could disenfranchise voters.


“Proposals to close roughly 90% of polling places — particularly in minority communities — would result in voter suppression and risk violating the Voting Rights Act,” Hogan wrote. “You would also be increasing the potential for crowds of voters at the few open polling places, resulting in hours-long lines.”

Local election boards across the state have been considering plans to consolidate polling places for the November election in order to implement Hogan’s plan for a traditional election. The governor announced in July that he expects all polling locations to be open in the fall as well as early voting sites. He also directed state election officials to send an absentee ballot application to every voter.


Of the nearly one dozen counties that have submitted plans for consolidation to the State Board of Elections for approval, none have requested a 90% reduction in locations. Howard County has proposed consolidating its 90 locations to 36, about a two-thirds reduction, and Anne Arundel County has suggested condensing its locations from 195 to 105.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks submitted a request to the governor to offer 15 vote centers rather than 244 polling places as part of a proposal that also included an extension of the window for early voting and to mail a ballot to every voter. However, the county’s election board president informed the governor this week that the board is not proceeding with such a plan.

Alsobrooks sparred with Hogan this week over his contention that Prince George’s County was engaging in voter suppression of a minority community.

The State Board of Elections must approve plans to consolidate polling locations before any jurisdiction can proceed. On Wednesday, the board delayed a decision on nearly a dozen consolidation plans as it instead considered a new recommendation to Hogan that the state instead offer 282 voting centers statewide, all operated out of public high schools.

Because Maryland remains under a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hogan has authority over the format of November’s election, not the board of elections. Hogan issued proclamations earlier this year to move April’s primary to June and ordered absentee ballots be mailed to every voter for a special Congressional election. Hogan has not issued any proclamations for the general election.

But in his letter, Hogan demanded the board of elections immediately mail out absentee ballot applications, noting that it has been four weeks since he issued his order. State election administrators have repeatedly said the applications will be mailed by Aug, 28, and officials said Wednesday that they remain on schedule. The Board of Elections approved language for the applications Wednesday, and the copy was due to be sent to a printing company Thursday. About 4 million copies must be printed and mailed.

Hogan also demanded the board begin “immediately recruiting and training election judges.” Local election boards began that task at least a month ago. Officials reported Wednesday that 14,000 vacancies remain in spite of an offer to state employees for additional administrative leave if they agree to work as an election judge.