Maryland will host in-person voting sites for its April 28 special election to fill the seat of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, marking another reversed decision in light of concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.
The Maryland Board of Elections came to the decision Monday, just 15 days before the election. This appears to be the final decision in a series of debates over whether or not to hold the election by mail-in ballots only.
Here’s how the decision changed over time.
- March 17: Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced his suggestion that the special election should be mail-in only.
- March 24: The Daily Caller first reported that the Maryland Board of Election staff notified local election directors and both campaigns in the special election that there would be three voting sites in addition to mail-in voting.
- March 25: The board voted unanimously to ensure there would be no in-person voting, shutting down efforts by the agency’s staff to provide voting sites. Roughly 500,000 mail-in ballots were then sent to eligible voters in the district.
- April 10: Hogan issued an executive order requiring the board to prove that holding the special election without in-person voting is both constitutional and would mitigate and reduce a “substantial threat to public safety or health.”
- April 13 (Monday): The five-person board decided to allow voting sites for the special election.
The Monday vote from the five-person board was 2-2, with the board’s chairman, Michael Cogan, abstaining his vote in a show of frustration. Cogan expressed his displeasure with the governor’s executive order that left the board to make a complex decision on short notice.
This meant in-person voting would be held, as the board was unable to rally a majority to ensure a mail-in election would be legal and necessary.
Board member Kelley Howells argued during the Monday meeting that the board couldn’t prove in-person voting would serve as a major threat to public health, as grocery stores have been successful in creating safe environments for large crowds to operate. If the public can still shop in a public place, she said, then the public’s right to vote as usual can be safely protected. (RELATED: Michigan Governor Deems Gardening Supplies — Including Fruit And Vegetable Seeds — ‘Non-Essential’)
P.J. Hogan, the board’s vice chairman, told the Daily Caller he felt the governor’s executive order wasn’t clear enough in describing what constitutes whether or not in-person voting is a threat to the public.
“I don’t think we can utilize voting centers and ensure the safety of public health,” P.J. Hogan told the Caller. “In my opinion, if one person gets it, that’s bad.”
P.J. Hogan, who is not related to the governor, said that the court system, not the board, should be the ones deciding whether or not a mail-in only election is constitutional.
Kimberly Klacik, the Republican nominee in the special election, told the Caller that despite being critical of the board in the past, she agrees the members were put in an unfair position. (RELATED: No New Coronavirus Cases In New York, Reports NBC News)
“The board is right,” she told the Caller. “The governor’s office is to blame here.”
The governor’s office did not respond for comment.
Mike Ricci, the governor’s communications director, tweeted Monday night that Hogan is encouraging Marylanders to vote via mail rather than at the in-person sites.
2. Governor Hogan continues to strongly encourage Marylanders who can vote by mail to cast their ballot by mail.
— Mike Ricci (@riccimike) April 13, 2020
Klacik also expressed concerns that allowing both mail-in and in-person voting could give leeway for people to vote twice.
Voters in District 7 were forced to accept a mail in only election. Yesterday, @GovLarryHogan & @md_sbe changed it adding only 3 polling sites after declaring MD an “emerging hotspot” for Corona & mailing ALL ballots. PLEASE call Hogan & demand a fair election.
— Kimberly Klacik (@kimKBaltimore) April 14, 2020
Nikki Charlson, the deputy state administrator for the board directory, told the Caller that local election leaders have provisions in place to ensure voters can only have one ballot counted. She said that to ensure transparency, the public will be able to see the ballots counted over a livestream.
You do not need to place stamps on your ballots even though the gray box on the front of the instructions states that they are needed. When the instructions were reviewed for the CD7 election, it was overlooked. It was a human error that was overlooked. Please pass this info on
— Baltimore City Elections (@Bmore_Elections) April 14, 2020
Charlson said she’s working with local election leaders on providing enough health equipment for the voting sites. A representative from the Maryland Health Department told the board in March that he couldn’t guarantee there would be enough health equipment available to ensure the safety of those choosing to vote in-person.
Maryland currently has more than 9,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 300 coronavirus-related deaths. (RELATED: INTERACTIVE: This Map Shows How Many Have Died From COVID-19 In Each State)
Charlson said there will be one voting site in each area of the district: Howard County, Baltimore County and Baltimore City. She added that while these sites are intended to encounter for those who are unable to access mail-in ballots, all registered voters can cast a ballot there.
Klacik said that she fears that her opponent, former Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume, will disregard social distancing guidelines by encouraging vast amounts of people to vote in-person.
“They’re going to try to get as many people to the polls as possible,” she told the Caller, noting that Mfume is known for “busing people to the polls.”
Mfume denied the accusations.
“[W]e support the state’s decision to have a mail-in election,” Mfume told the Caller. “My opponent’s comments about bussing are simply not true and she knows that.”
A Republican has never held Maryland’s 7th congressional seat.