Common Cause, League of Women Voters, other organizations recommend next steps for Maryland elections amid COVID-19
- Joanne Antoine (443) 906-0442 Jantoine@commoncause.org
Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Maryland, Maryland PIRG and ACLU of Maryland today urged Governor Larry Hogan and the Maryland Board of Elections to implement changes before the delayed 2020 Presidential Primary and the 7th Congressional District special election. Their letter reads as follows:
March 18, 2020
Dear Governor Hogan and Members of the Board:
We are encouraged to learn that as the state grapples with challenges of the COVID-19 virus, you are adopting emergency measures to protect public health and every Marylander’s right to vote in the upcoming 2020 Presidential Primary and 7th Congressional District Special General Election.
While the state has taken rapid action to delay the upcoming Primary Election and to conduct the 7th Congressional District Special Election by mail, helping to minimize any risk of transmission, we remain concerned about the safety of poll workers, voters, and the public at large. We expect that even with a delayed Primary Election, at the very least, many Marylanders will be reluctant to participate in-person. Poll workers — the majority of whom are seniors, an at-risk group — will continue to decline working during the delayed election, leaving our polls understaffed during a time when jurisdictions throughout the state continue to have difficulty recruiting and retaining poll workers. This will cause a variety of problems for Maryland voters: polling places opening late, no one knowledgeable to assist with use of voting machines, and more.
We are also concerned at the possibility of disenfranchising thousands of eligible voters during the 7th Congressional District Special General Election. With both elections only being a few weeks away, we need to continue taking action to ensure all eligible voters are able to exercise their right to vote without putting their health at risk during this critical time.
In response to the growing public health crisis in Maryland and throughout the country, we urge Governor Hogan, with the assistance of the Board, to consider alternatives that alleviate risk and fosters collaboration with voting rights advocates, helping to ensure the election process is equitable, accessible, and secure. We ask that you consider our recommendations:
- Establish a Voting Rights Task Force: It is crucial for the State Board of Elections to consult with voting rights advocates, including those representing the rights of voters with disabilities, in addition to public health officials and local election officials, as they consider changes to Maryland’s voting processes – specifically the 7th Congressional District all-mail election. Input from trusted voting rights advocates will help ensure these elections are conducted in an equitable and accessible way that does not disenfranchise Maryland voters.
- 7th Congressional District Special Election: While we understand that in-person voting is not possible for this election, we are troubled that eligible voters will no longer be able to take advantage of same-day registration. We’re even more concerned that voters with disabilities, limited English and other barriers will have no clear route for seeking assistance. Putting a Task Force to work collaboratively with the State Board of Elections would ensure that we are looking at ways to ensure no voter is disenfranchised. This includes implementing a process to extend the registration and absentee request deadline to as close as election day as possible, temporarily waiving the identification restrictions for those voters who may not have state ID’s, and allowing for provisional voting. We should also work collaboratively to ensure inactive voters are contacted and provided with an opportunity to receive an absentee ballot as well as develop a clear process for resolving absentee ballots issues.
- Adequate Funding for Public Outreach: We encourage you to provide adequate funding to ensure voters in the 7th Congressional District are informed of changes to the election, provided with clear instructions on how to check and update their addresses and how to submit and track their ballot, as well as where to call with questions and problems that may arise. Funding should also be made available to ensure the public is aware of delayed 2020 Primary Election, and election changes if also conducted by mail.
- Conduct Delayed Primary Election by Mail: While already delayed, we ask that you consider automatic absentee voting during the delayed Primary Election — mailing absentee ballots to all registered voters. If this route is taken, the State Board of Elections would be able to work with this Task Force to ensure that the infrastructure and processes being implemented is one where voters are not disenfranchised during the receipt, verification, and tallying of a larger volume of mail-in ballots. Vote Centers: If adopted, voting centers should be made available during the delayed Primary Election, while implementing best practices recommended by healthcare professionals to ensure the process is safe and equitable. These centers should be accessible to all voters and function similar to early vote locations, ensuring eligible voters are able to take advantage of same-day registration and that those in need of assistance or experiencing issues receiving their absentee ballot — such as ballots being sent to old/inaccurate address, voters not receiving a ballot, or voters receiving the wrong ballot — are able to get the help they need. There should be a sufficient number of vote centers made available throughout the state, open throughout early voting period and on Election Day.
Marylanders expect and deserve to have their say at the polls to choose their representatives. We hope that you will take these recommendations into consideration and that you will consult with voting rights advocates as you move forward with the 2020 Presidential Primary and 7th Congressional District Special Election. Thank you all for your leadership during this challenging time. We look forward to working with you all.
Joanne Antoine, Executive Director, Common Cause Maryland
Lois Hybl & Richard Willson, Co-Presidents, League of Women Voters of Maryland
Emily Scarr, Director, Maryland PIRG
Dana Vickers Shelley, Executive Director, ACLU of Maryland