Four Anne Arundel lawmakers are calling on Maryland’s Republican governor to call a special legislative session and install rule changes to safeguard against fraud in Maryland’s June 2 vote-by-mail elections, changes election officials say can’t be implemented in time.

Voter fraud is uncommon in Maryland, but the Republican lawmakers said they are concerned about a discrepancy in the number of ballots sent out for the primary and the number of residents who voted in the 2016 primary: About 2 million ballots.

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, and Brian Chisholm along with Anne Arundel County Councilman Nathan Volke want Gov. Larry Hogan to call a “one- or two-day” special General Assembly session to implement signature verification for all mail-in ballots and other changes.

A spokesman for the governor’s office acknowledged receiving the request, but declined to comment on it.

Even if lawmakers were to agree on coming back to Annapolis, Deputy State Election Administrator Nikki Charlson said, it would be impossible to implement changes for the primary, now less than two weeks away.

Signature verification compares a voter’s signature on an absentee or mailed-in ballot to another signature already on file. Some states require a copy of a voter ID or a witness signature on the return envelope. In Maryland, election officials review absentee ballots and verify the ballot has been signed. If a ballot is not signed, it is rejected, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Maryland’s election system was never meant to be a mail-in system, said Simonaire, R-Pasadena.

“That’s under normal circumstances, we have turned this election upside down," he said. “And they are trying to do it on the fly — without safeguards."

Chisholm, R-Severna Park, said he has received “consistent calls” from constituents who “feel very uneasy with the process just based on anecdotal evidence that it’s going to be a fair election," he said.

Hogan announced last month the state’s primary would move to June and be conducted largely by mail in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As of Wednesday, it has killed at least 2,000 people in Maryland and sickened another 40,000. More than 130 people have died in Anne Arundel County.

Though the State Board of Elections has said voter fraud is unlikely, Simonaire said that is based on the state’s typical voting system, which relies heavily on in-person participation.

Five states have full vote-by-mail systems, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. Three other states allow their individual counties to set-up similar systems. No excuse absentee voting — which means any voter can request a mail ballot without providing an excuse — is allowed in Maryland and 33 other states and the District of Columbia.

State Sen. Sarah Elfreth, D-Annapolis, said she agreed with Hogan’s decision to hold the vote by mail.

“The right to vote is one of our most fundamental rights and Marylanders deserve to have their votes counted,” Elfreth said. “I agree with Governor Hogan’s decision and have faith that our Board of Elections will conduct the primary in a transparent and trustworthy manner.”

Chisholm said he would be open to a hybrid system for the general election in November in which voters could choose between voting in person or mailing their ballot.

“If we did a hybrid where everybody had the opportunity to vote in person, or if they felt that their safety might be at risk or their health might be a risk, then certainly give them the opportunity to do the mail-in.”

The group is also calling on the State Board of Elections to send unrequested mail-in ballots only to those who have voted in at least one or more of the last four elections and repeal new regulations that allow only one person to review ballots rather a team of bi-partisan reviewers as was done previously.

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Simonaire said it is not as if 2 million people will commit voter fraud in the June 2 primary, but if 99% of people do the right thing and only 1% of people commit fraud that is 20,000 votes, he said.

If these demands are not met, the legislators say the state should abandon the mail-in election in favor of an in-person voting system. Simonaire said he acted quickly on this measure and only contacted other lawmakers in his district because they were already in communication about constituent services during the pandemic.

“It was not meant to be partisan — fraud knows no boundary,” Simonaire said. “I’m just concerned about the integrity of our election.”

Ways and Means’ Election Law subcommittee chair Del. Nick Mosby, D-Baltimore City, said it would be wrong not to provide a ballot to every registered voter in the state. Mosby is a candidate for Baltimore City Council President in the 2020 primary.

“To disenfranchise individuals who are legally registered voters in the state of Maryland does not fit inside of our constitution does not fit inside our democracy,” Mosby said.

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©2020 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)

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(8) comments

bosco

Didn't some absentee ballots from South Carolina just end up Maryland, or was that fake news?

LeonardKeepers

i am not in favor of mail in ballots.i have read about some of them winding up in wrong areas. i see nothing wrong with masking up and going to the polls as if there was no pandemic.

public-tertiary

And no one is stopping you from doing that. Put on your mask and go to a polling place.

Piedmontgardener

There is apparently no low, too low, for some of these people.

hayduke2

A group trying to cast doubt on the validity of the election for tribal, party-line goal reasons. Get over it and move on.

Jleftwich

There is the chance for fraud no matter the format. Throughout the US, In-person voting is either touch screen or hard copy ballot. After completing the method, the ballot is stored in the computer's memory or scanned and placed into a secure bin. Then all of it goes .... somewhere.

Maybe there is a virus in computer's memory that stealthily changes all of the recorded votes once the machine is "off". Maybe the election judge whose task it is to carry the scanned results back to Election HQ swaps out the device. (Yes, I'm being sarcastic, you can see how far down the rabbit hole one can go with this).

At some point there has to be trust in the system. Typically, voting fraud is uncovered, as is the case in the recent episode in NC's 9th district.

DickD

We hashed voter fraud out on the May 6 article. There's no significant voter fraud in Maryland. Just go back and see what was said.

It's just more Republicans hoping to suppress voters.

micky

Republicans, give it up !! The D's will will in this state no matter what. Hogan was the result of a bad Dem candidate, who was next in line !!

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