Time is running out as Maryland heads toward the general election in November with no clear idea of how balloting will be done.

Gov. Larry Hogan has ordered the state Board of Elections and the county boards to mail absentee ballot applications to every voter, but to also open early voting centers and then open every precinct polling place on Nov. 3.

That is a recipe for disaster, and election officials across the state have practically been begging the state board and Hogan to come to agreement on a new plan.

The lack of election judges is the first crisis. According to news reports, David Garreis, president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, warned the election board this week that more than 1,000 additional Maryland poll workers have dropped out over the past week, leaving the state with little more than 60 percent of what it would need to staff Hogan’s plan.

Local election administrators are planning for a “high probability the public health crisis will worsen in September and October, and election judges will begin to quit en masse,” Garreis said. “Once the majority of the election judges quit, there is not going to be a backup.”

Beyond that problem, state laws passed back when no one anticipated our current pandemic throws one more wrench into the creaking election machinery: Absentee ballots cannot be counted until two days after the election.

Think about that. We are encouraging most people to vote by mail to avoid crowds in the polling places during the pandemic. But even if the whole process runs smoothly, we might not know who won the election for days or weeks.

With President Trump already casting doubt on the whole process, proclaiming the election will be rigged, any significant delay is going to weaken Americans’ faith in the outcome.

By sending an application for an absentee ballot to every registered voter, we are guaranteeing extra work for election board staff. Early voting can be a logistical challenge as well. How many centers? Who will staff them?

Finally, even finding enough polling places will be a nightmare. Churches and other privately owned buildings normally used as polling places are refusing to allow it, because of the danger posed by the virus.

Stuart Harvey, Frederick County’s Election Director, told his board that fewer polling places should be used.

In an email to the board, Harvey wrote: “We are encouraging vote-by-mail for voters, at the same time we’re being asked to open the polling places on Nov. 3 and also conduct eight days of early voting. That puts a huge strain on a very small staff.”

Hogan has criticized the state board because the members could not agree on whether the November election should be run like the June primary, which was largely conducted by mail, or if more polling places should open.

That is a little unfair. State law requires that four of the five board members must agree on a plan, and the board was split on party lines

Three Republicans favored using a limited number of in-person voting centers and sending absentee ballot applications to every registered voter. The two Democrats also wanted limited in-person voting but preferred mailing ballots to every registered voter.

Neither side supported opening all of the state’s precincts. However, the split vote did not count as an endorsement of any plan, leaving Hogan to go his own way.

Hogan needs to reconsider while there is still time to come up with a better solution. We would still prefer to send ballots to every registered voter and have minimal in-person voting. But at a minimum, the governor needs to have the absentee ballots counted as they arrive at the election boards, so that we can announce almost complete returns on Nov. 3. And we have to open a smaller number of polling places.

Maintaining public confidence in this election is going to be hard enough, with the president constantly attacking the validity. We cannot give him more ammunition to damage it by following a deeply flawed plan.

(12) comments

sevenstones1000

I thought every public high school in MD was going to be designated a voting place. Is this op ed out of date? Sounds like fear mongering.

seanjames

i mean, we've already had two elections during covid. and in those, the state mailed ballots to all registered voters automatically. seemed to work fine. i wonder why this one is different?

just kidding, it's because hogan is stupid enough to think he is a viable '24 presidential candidate and has to cowtow to the trump wing of the party

threecents

There may get a perfect plan, and we have to live with that. I think the main point is that we have option of sending in votes well in advance of the election and that verification, counting, and re-counting of mail-in votes begins well in advance of the election. Some mail-in votes may not be counted for weeks after the election, and we will have to live with that. I think it will be great if about half of polling places can open, but there will be so few people voting in person that understaffing will not be such a big issue in most places. By now, most people know to mask up, distance, and Purell. Have TV commercials and signs saying no mask over nose equals no service.

MD1756

I still intend on voting in person if allowed. If it is no different than in the past, it's less of a risk than going to the grocery store. The times I go to the poll there are fewer people than at the grocery store (especially when you have to try to avoid the ones going the wrong way down the isle.).

threecents

Remember to do your part by Purelling before and after voting.

NewMarketParent

It is reasonable to expect people to go in person if you can put mechanisms to keep them safe.

But, vote by mail is safer and just as effective so I don't understand why people are up in arms unless they are being lied to about their being fraud in vote by mail.

threecents

Sorry for typos. I blame Russian or Chinese election hackers.

jsklinelga

Politics. Consider "Finally, even finding enough polling places will be a nightmare. Churches and other privately owned buildings normally used as polling places are refusing to allow it, because of the danger posed by the virus."

There are 67 empty schools in the county with large centers that have separate outdoor access. With vigilance the State positivity rate has fallen and all curves are flattening. With the same vigilance the polling places would be safe. By all appearances it looks as if some people want the election called into question or disputed .rather than help to ensure a smooth process. The why seems obvious.

phydeaux994

The State Board of Elections (SBE) today agreed to ask Governor Larry Hogan to designate each of Maryland’s 282 high schools as vote centers — places where any county resident can vote, regardless of their precinct — for the November 3 election.

public-redux

“By all appearances it looks as if some people want the election called into question or disputed.”

It is clear that you are referring to Trump. Why do you think he wants the election called into question?

FrederickFan

Hogan will never admit he is wrong. He is on one big ego trip and more worried about his 2024 election. Hogan actually accused the PG CE of voter suppression for disagreeing with him on how the election should be handled. That is totally outrageous and unacceptable behavior.

DickD

Just send notification to every registered voter, make them request a ballot and you will have a good idea of how many voting locations that are needed. Then require mail in ballots to be counted a week before the voting in person date. Anyone not already voting should be allowed to vote in person. ..Computers can easily track that, same as they do when voting in person.

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