BALTIMORE — Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said Friday that Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to hold a traditional election in November without automatically mailing ballots to all voters will have “devastating consequences.”
Frosh, a Democrat, issued a statement saying the state remains in the middle of a pandemic that is “burning out of control.”
He accused the governor, a Republican, of “bowing to (President) Donald Trump’s reckless demands.”
“In Maryland, more than 3,250 lives have already been lost,” he said. “Requiring voters to appear in person to cast their ballots unnecessarily puts voters’ lives and the lives of poll workers at risk.”
Frosh’s statement came two days after Hogan ordered a traditional Election Day in the fall. Hogan’s plan calls for all of Maryland’s 1,600 polling places to open, as well as early voting locations. All voters would be mailed an application for an absentee ballot, and would only receive ballots by mail if they request them.
Frosh said Hogan’s decision threatened to suppress the votes of hundreds of thousands of state residents and endanger thousands of election workers. Baltimore City will need more than 4,000 people, and Anne Arundel County will require 3,000, he said.
Frosh said the governor should “immediately reverse course and authorize a vote-by-mail election.”
Hogan’s spokesman, Mike Ricci, said Frosh’s proposal would suppress voters, not the governor’s.
“Brian Frosh is now suggesting that we ignore our election laws, limit options for voters and suppress the vote by closing polling precincts. We will do none of that,” Ricci said. “We will follow the law, and actively encourage early voting, absentee voting by mail, and voting at off-peak times as safe and efficient options for voters.”
Because Maryland remains in a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor has the authority to dictate how elections in the state are run.
Hogan’s decision this week marked a change in course for Maryland, which held its first statewide election primarily by mail in June in an effort to minimize transmission of the virus.
The election had several notable problems: Ballots arrived less than two weeks before the primary for hundreds of thousands of voters, and election officials misjudged the number of people who would vote in person, causing lengthy lines at polling places. Also, results for races in Baltimore City were removed from the state’s website late on primary night without explanation — a move made after a printing error was discovered on thousands of ballots that led to incorrect returns.
Hogan cited the problems in announcing his decision to hold a “normal” election.
The primary was also notable, however, for its high level of turnout. The majority of voters used the ballots they were mailed, returning them via the U.S. Postal Service or in drop boxes placed across the state.
Discussion about the format of the November election has been divided along party lines. Democratic leaders in the state Senate called for a hybrid plan in which more voting centers would be offered but ballots would still be mailed to all active, eligible, registered voters.
Republican leaders in the Senate argued that a vote-by-mail election would undermine confidence in the integrity of the contest. They called for absentee ballot applications — but not ballots — to be sent to all voters.
The State Board of Elections, a bipartisan group appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate, split on party lines on the issue. Republican appointees favored sending absentee ballot applications, raising concerns about the possibility of fraud created by sending out unsolicited ballots. Democratic members argued for mailing ballots to every voter. The board was united on one front, however: the members agreed a traditional election across the state was not feasible.
Frosh said Maryland should reject inaccurate claims that voting by mail is ripe for fraud.
“Donald Trump and his acolytes are trying to undermine public confidence in the 2020 election by intentionally making false statements about the potential for fraud in a vote-by-mail election,” he said. “But Maryland had rejected those calls in the past, and certainly should do so again.”
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