Maryland council calls for early absentee ballot count

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland State Board of Elections voted Monday to file an emergency motion in court that seeks an earlier count of mail-in ballots for the November general election.

The council voted 4-0 to seek legal redress in hopes of speeding up the vote count for mail-in ballots, which have become much more popular with voters in the state.

In a statement after the vote, the council said the continued expansion of mail-in voting and the inability of local election commissions to count mail-in ballots before Election Day could have significant implications.

“This could leave local, statewide and even federal competitions without certified results until late December 2022 or early January 2023,” the board said. “Maryland is currently the only state in the union that prohibits any type of processing of mail-in ballots until after Election Day.”

Currently, mail-in ballots cannot be counted until two days after Election Day. That caused delays in determining the winners of the state’s primary last month. The state Board of Elections certified the primary election on Monday.

Maryland’s primary was delayed three weeks due to legal challenges involving parliamentary and legislative redistricting.

Elections board member Severn Miller said the board is limited in what it has the power to do on its own in the matter.

“I think the proper course here is to seek judicial relief in circuit court to allow the counting of absentee ballots before Election Day, so that we can get ahead of the curve and just don’t publish these results only after election day. done,” Miller said at a board meeting on Monday.

About 345,230 mail-in ballots were received from across the state in the primary. That compares to 671,160 votes cast in the Democratic gubernatorial primary and 295,068 votes cast in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Senator Cheryl Kagan spoke to the board about a bill she sponsored that passed the General Assembly this year. The measure would have allowed mail-in ballots to begin being counted before Election Day, but Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the bill.

“It was unfortunate and avoidable, but really big kudos to you four for just voting unanimously to bring in a legal initiative, and we hope it gets approved by the circuit court, and we can make sure the votes are counted in a timely manner,” said Kagan, a Democrat from Montgomery County.

In his letter vetoing the bill, the Republican governor cited voter security concerns over another provision of the legislation that would have allowed voters who forget to sign their mail-in ballot envelope to do so after mailing it. to make it count.

Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said the governor supports the action taken by the board of elections.

“The Governor strongly supports the Board of Directors finally taking steps to pass early solicitation – as it did for the 2020 elections – and remedy the failure of the General Assembly to pass a simple draft law that would have allowed this to happen,” Ricci said, adding that the administration hopes the court will “act quickly.”

Meanwhile, a recount is set to begin this week in the race for the Democratic nomination for Montgomery County executive. Marc Elrich, the incumbent, is ahead of David Blair by 35 votes.

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