Maryland court upholds count of prior mail-in ballots

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland’s highest court on Friday upheld a lower court’s granting of an emergency motion from the state board of elections that will allow absentee ballots to be counted sooner. than currently permitted by state law.

Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Matthew Fader wrote that the motion granted last month by Montgomery County Circuit Judge James Bonifant was “affirmed in all respects” for reasons that will be set out in a subsequent notice.

The decision will be instrumental in helping local election officials “complete the timely canvassing and tabulation of these ballots and meet all relevant statutory deadlines,” the Maryland State Board of Elections wrote in a statement.

State and local election commissions have begun implementing pre-election canvassing protocols established in the 2020 general election, the state board said, adding that best practices will inform the canvassing process throughout. throughout the 2022 general election.

The Court of Appeal had upheld the motion hours after hearing oral argument earlier in the day.

Attorney C. Edward Hartman told the court that it was up to the General Assembly, not the courts, to change the law. In fact, the Legislature passed a measure allowing earlier counting of mail-in ballots this year, Hartman noted, but Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the bill over other provisions he didn’t. was not supporting.

“That discussion has already taken place this year in the appropriate branch of government,” said Hartman, who is advocating on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox. “We can’t start over here.”

Last month, Bonifant granted an emergency petition filed by the state Board of Elections last month to allow mail-in ballot canvassing to begin Oct. 1.

Bonifant wrote that with so many mail-in ballots, which have become more popular amid the COVID-19 pandemic, local election commissions would not be able to verify the vote count within 10 days of the polls. general elections, as required. This would jeopardize the placement of winning candidates on next term dates, Bonifant noted.

Hartman argued that the state must adhere to constitutional requirements because “once we start endorsing the blurring of lines between the three branches of government, we start a slippery slope.”

But Court of Appeal judge Angela Eaves asked: ‘We’re only talking about this general election, so should we just accept the domino effect and the turmoil that might cause?’

Hartman said it’s not about whether or not the state should.

“The question is whether we can, and I believe we can’t. According to the constitutions of the United States and Maryland, this is not a judicial office,” Hartman said.

Eaves wondered how the delay in counting the ballots could prevent elected officials from starting their terms to start addressing issues important to the public.

Eaves asked: ‘Should citizens just say, ‘Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait to resolve these important issues affecting us? …So the domino effect doesn’t matter at all?'”

Hartman replied, “It matters, but that doesn’t mean it’s a problem this court can fix. Otherwise, this court becomes the legislature.”

Dan Kobrin, an assistant attorney general who argued on behalf of the Maryland State Board of Elections, said the board had asked the court under a constitutional delegation of power from the legislature to the judiciary for a remedy narrowly suitable that is available due to emergency circumstances for the public interest.

“You have a Circuit Court decision on the discrete set of facts with an appeal that only addresses and affects the discrete set of facts regarding the party before it,” Kobrin said.

Counting mail-in ballots before Election Day was permitted in 2020 during the state of emergency, when mail-in voting increased due to the pandemic. But as the state of emergency expired, the state reverted to a law that only allows ballots to be counted after Election Day.

The counting of mail-in ballots did not begin until two days after the primary in July, leaving the results of many races unknown for days.

It’s a big election year in Maryland, with statewide offices like Governor, Attorney General and Comptroller on the ballot, as well as the 188 seats in the General Assembly, the eight state seats in the United States House and one seat in the United States Senate.

As of Wednesday, 549,681 voters had requested mail-in ballots in Maryland. That’s more than the 508,000 who asked for them in the primary. Maryland has approximately 3.8 million eligible active voters.

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