Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh on Friday urged Gov. Larry Hogan to conduct the November general election by mail due to concerns over the safety of voters and poll workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Frosh’s statement comes two days after Hogan directed Maryland election officials to open all regular in-person poll locations on Election Day. The governor’s plan would also mail absentee ballot applications to all eligible voters, rather than mailing the ballots to voters outright.
In a July 6 letter to Hogan and other state officials, the Maryland Association of Election Officials, which represents the local election boards across the state, said that sending out absentee ballot applications rather than mailing the ballots themselves would likely have “devastating consequences.”
The local election officials said the ballot applications would “cause voter confusion,” and that other jurisdictions have found the practice to be “costly, inefficient and unsuccessful.”
Maryland was supposed to send ballots to all eligible voters for the June 2 primary election as well as for the April 28 special election to fill Maryland’s 7th Congressional district seat, which former Rep. Elijah Cummings held until his death in October 2019.
During the primary election, thousands of voters received their ballots late or containing errors. And in both elections, many voters did not receive ballots in the mail at all.
The Maryland elections board and the state’s printing vendor, SeaChange, blamed one another for the ballot issues.
Hogan on Wednesday latched onto those problems as support for holding the general election primarily in person.
But Frosh said that Maryland is facing a pandemic that is “burning out of control,” and that the state must strive to make voting as safe and easy as possible under these circumstances.
“Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and eligible citizens should be able to cast their votes under the least burdensome conditions possible,” he said.
As of Friday morning, 3,172 Marylanders have died from COVID-19, according to state data. There are also 131 residents whose deaths are suspected to be related to the virus.
That number could grow if Hogan’s plan for a primarily in-person election continues, Frosh said.
“Requiring voters to appear in person to cast their ballots unnecessarily puts voters’ lives and the lives of poll workers at risk,” he said.
Frosh added that under Hogan’s plan, the state will need to recruit and train more than 4,000 election judges for Baltimore City and more than 3,000 for Anne Arundel County.
Those judges, he said, will be exposed to one another during training and to thousands of voters at polling stations, putting them at a greater risk for contracting COVID-19, Frosh said.
“Who will take those risks?” he asked.
President Donald Trump has persistently tried to discredit voting by mail, again claiming on Friday that mail-in ballots could result in widespread voter fraud.
But Frosh said the president’s statements about mail-in voting are false, noting that Maryland saw two confirmed cases of voter fraud out of more than 2.7 million in-person and mail-in votes cast during the 2012 presidential election. In the 2016 presidential election, during which a total of more than 2.8 million votes were cast in Maryland, there were no individuals prosecuted for voter fraud, Frosh said.
“Massive voter fraud is exceedingly rare because of the checks and balances that our election processes have in place to prevent it,” he said. “These checks include tight control and tracking of every ballot, with each ballot containing its own identifying number, as well as steps to verify the validity of a ballot if any questions arise.”
Frosh went on to say that following Trump’s calls for in-person elections will endanger Marylanders’ safety and hinder their right to vote.
“Bowing to Donald Trump’s reckless demands for in-person voting puts at risk the lives of Maryland citizens and risks disenfranchising many thousands of eligible voters,” Frosh said.
Hogan said on Wednesday that his in-person voting plan includes “enhanced voting options,” but Frosh argued it does the opposite.
“Governor Hogan’s plan does not enhance voting options. It takes voting options away from Marylanders,” Frosh said. “Indeed, it threatens to suppress the votes of hundreds of thousands of our citizens.”
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