Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is pressing elections officials for information about how they’re going to carry out his orders for an in-person November election, as well as encouraging people to vote by mail during the pandemic.
In a sharply-worded letter sent Monday afternoon to the state elections administrator, Linda Lamone, Hogan demanded an update on elections logistics within 48 hours. He said he’s been asking for information since the June 2 primary.
“More than two months have passed, and you still have not provided a plan for how you are going to conduct an election,” the Republican governor wrote to Lamone. “This is your sole responsibility and your only job.”
“Instead,” Hogan continued, “we have seen two months of delay and deflection about why polls can’t be opened, and why applications for ballots can’t be mailed.”
On July 8, Hogan ordered that every regular polling location be open for the November general election, plus early voting centers. He also ordered that absentee ballot applications be mailed to voters to make it easier for people to vote by mail.
Hogan has said this setup for the election would “maximize participation” and “minimize confusion” for voters.
But he’s become increasingly frustrated by what he says is a lack of action on planning for the election.
Hogan blasted local elections officials for suggesting “massive closures of polling places” for the November election, alleging that they were engaging in “voter suppression and disenfranchisement on a significant scale.”
He quoted former Democratic President Barack Obama, who spoke at U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ funeral last week against people “who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting.”
Lamone and top state elections officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday night. But Lamone sent a detailed letter to leaders in the state Senate last week outlining a timeline of tasks leading up to the election — answering some of the questions Hogan asked in his letter — and updating details of recruiting election judges and hiring companies to print ballots.
“We continue working on all aspects of preparation for the November election and will continue to provide the requested periodic updates and reports,” Lamone wrote.
Hogan’s order for a largely in-person election has been challenging for local and state elections officials.
Democratic lawmakers and voting advocacy groups had urged Hogan to mail the ballots themselves to voters and offer some level in-person voting for the November election, as was done in the June 2 primary.
The June primary, at Hogan’s direction, was a largely vote-by-mail election, with limited in-person voting and ballot dropboxes.
But that election was hampered by some problems: misprinted ballots in Baltimore City; instructions delivered only in Spanish for Prince George’s County voters; lengthy waits at some in-person polls; and a tedious tabulation of results.
Hogan wrote that he’s worried that the state elections board “appears to be on a path to repeating the massive failures of the June 2 primary election.”
But local elections officials have said that Hogan is setting them up to fail by requiring full, in-person operations in the midst of a pandemic.
Local elections officials have reported problems in recruiting election judges — many of whom are senior citizens — to work the polling precincts in November. Numerous jurisdictions have found they have about a third of their typical workforce available.
Hogan has encouraged state employees to work as election judges.
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“In a normal election year, recruiting election judges is a challenging job for local election officials; for this election, it is even harder,” Lamone wrote in her letter to Democratic leaders.
With a shortage of judges, some counties are considering combining precincts and slashing the overall number of voting locations.
In Carroll County, for example, the local elections board voted to consolidate polling places, bringing the total number of locations to 17 from 36. Howard County plans to offer just 35 polling locations, instead of the 90 used in a typical election.
In his letter Monday, Hogan demanded to know why absentee ballot applications hadn’t yet been mailed, as he ordered.
“Under existing law, and to save voters the extra step of having to request an application for an absentee ballot, I directed you to promptly mail applications to every single Maryland registered voter,” Hogan wrote. “It has now been 26 days, and you have failed to take this action.”
State elections officials have said they plan to mail the absentee ballot applications on Aug. 28. The elections board is scheduled to review and approve the wording and format of the absentee ballot application at its meeting on Wednesday. Until then, printing of absentee ballot applications cannot begin.
In Maryland, voters are not required to give a reason for requesting an absentee ballot, a process that also is offered online.