Today’s special election in Maryland CD-7 tests state’s vote by mail system

Today, voters in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District decide who will fulfill the remainder of Congressman Elijah Cummings’ term of office.

Due to COVID-19, this election is being conducted primarily by mail. Ballots were mailed to voters, starting April 8. In 2018, less than 5% of votes were cast by mail; and about 2% of mailed ballots were rejected rather than counted. Maryland does not yet have a process for voters to “cure” or correct ballots that have been rejected for reasons such as missing signatures. The state’s next election will be the presidential preference primary on June 2nd, which will also be conducted primarily by mail.

Statement by Common Cause Maryland Executive Director Joanne Antoine

We thank both the Maryland State Board of Elections and the local Boards of Elections in Baltimore County, Howard County, and Baltimore City for conducting our first election during the COVID-19 Pandemic. We especially appreciate the work done to protect the health of the public while providing safe access to voting.The special election will undoubtedly serve as a practice run for the primary election in June. That is why we must be given complete statistics on how many ballots were rejected in this election and the reasons behind why they were rejected.

Due to how quickly our election was changed to a Vote by Mail system, there will almost certainly be an increase in ballot rejections. Many voters will be voting by mail for the first time, and a common mistake first time absentee voters make is forgetting to sign their return envelope. Rates for the non-signature of ballots are bound to be higher. Currently, there is no ‘curing’ process for absentee ballots — so voters do not have the opportunity to fix their ballot if they have made a technical error.

Common Cause Maryland is calling on the Boards of Elections in Baltimore County, Baltimore City, and Howard County to release full information on Special Election ballots that are rejected.That data will show whether or not it is prudent for the State Board of Elections to maintain their stance on not implementing a curing process.

We understand that more changes to our election system will be difficult at this time. However, every vote is worth protecting. 

It is essential that processes are set in place to ensure that every voter can effectively participate in our democracy.