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Baltimore mayor, local county executives urge Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to rethink largely in-person election

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, pictured Tuesday, announced last Wednesday that despite concerns from election officials, the state will hold a normal-in person general election in November.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, pictured Tuesday, announced last Wednesday that despite concerns from election officials, the state will hold a normal-in person general election in November. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Seven local Democratic leaders around Maryland wrote a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday urging him to reconsider holding a largely in-person election in November and instead think about making it a “hybrid” with an emphasis on vote-by-mail and extended in-person voting centers.

Local officials said the election Hogan ordered is a “herculean” task and “sets up a course of failure” for boards of elections around the state because it would force them to essentially run a vote-by-mail and in-person election at the same time.

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“We have only to look at the failures across the country of states that required vote-by-mail ballot applications in which millions of additional dollars had to be spent, elections staff overwhelmed with last minute applications that could not be processed in time for Election Day, and the resulting need to extend voting hours as voters were forced to the polls,” the letter said.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young along with Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr., Frederick County Executive Jan H. Gardner, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks signed the letter sent to the Republican governor.

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A spokesman for Hogan, Mike Ricci, said in a statement Tuesday night, “This issue should not be a partisan one, and everyone should have the chance to request a ballot to make their voice heard.” His words echoed those of former Democratic President Barack Obama, who tweeted Monday: “Voting by mail shouldn’t be a partisan issue––especially during a pandemic. Everybody should be able to request an absentee ballot, and make their voice heard in every election.”

Ricci added Tuesday: ”We hope and expect local leaders to join us in actively encouraging early voting, absentee voting-by-mail, and voting at off-peak times as safe and efficient options for voters.”

Hogan announced last Wednesday that despite concerns from state and local election officials, a normal-in person election would be held. To accommodate anyone who feels unsafe casting a ballot in person because of the coronavirus pandemic, Hogan also ordered the State Board of Elections in a letter to mail each voter an application for an absentee ballot.

In the Monday letter, local officials raised concerns about people standing indoors for prolonged periods of time and said the volume of voters could make social distancing more difficult. Officials said they are also concerned about the availability of polling facilities because many traditional polls are at schools that have had limited access throughout COVID-19. And private facilities like day cares, community centers and nursing homes would likely have “limited availability” officials said, based on feedback.

Officials also said they are worried about having an adequate number of poll workers to help extend voting hours and perform the enhanced cleaning responsibilities. They said many long-standing volunteers are older and more vulnerable to the virus.

“While this level of staffing would be difficult in a typical year, health and safety concerns of volunteers due to COVID-19 will drastically impact the ability of election boards in this area,” the letter said. “Your directive may cause a hardship for voters.”

Voters may also face difficulties with submitting a vote-by-mail application in time, the officials said, and there may be confusion because of how the June 2 primary was conducted, which was largely by mail only.

“We are most especially concerned that voters, unable to meet the ballot application deadline, will be forced to go to the polls, putting themselves and others at undue health risk,” the letter said.

The officials said they have “confidence” in the Board of Elections and support it in its suggestions to increase access to in-person vote centers during early voting and on Election Day; send a special mailing to active and inactive voters to verify addresses, and send a mailing to inactive voters that can be forwarded.

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