Election workers collect mail-in ballots during the 2020 presidential primary election. Credit: File Photo

A decision by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to veto state legislation allowing local election officials to count mail-in ballots before Election Day could delay the final results of close races, the county’s acting election director said.

Last month, Hogan vetoed legislation that would have allowed election officials in the state’s counties and Baltimore city to count mail-in ballots up to eight business days before the start of early voting, which is July 7. Alysoun McLaughlin, the county’s acting election director, said Hogan’s veto means counties will not be able to count mail-in ballots until July 21, two days after the primary election. That’s what state law allows, she said.

McLaughlin said local election officials expect that out of all the ballots cast in the primary, about a third will be mail-in ballots. Some races, therefore, won’t be decided on Election Day, she added. In order for a mail-in ballot to be counted, it must be deposited in a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. July 19 or postmarked by that date. 

“I can almost guarantee that we won’t know the results in close races,” McLaughlin said. 

Nikki Charlson, deputy administrator for the state Board of Elections, wrote in an email that the state board “tentatively scheduled a meeting for June 16 to discuss its options in light of the Governor’s vetoes” of the state legislation.

In a letter explaining the decision for his veto, Hogan wrote: “Most scholars agree that abuse does happen more so with mail-in voting versus voting in person. Yet, as our vote by mail numbers rise, the missing piece in this legislation is that balance — for even the appearance of impropriety or the opportunity for fraud can be enough to undermine citizens’ confidence in their electoral system. While this legislation allows a voter to provide a missing signature by one of several ways — including in person, mail, email and text — it remains silent on basic security measures such as signature verification — with Maryland being one of only nine states that does not conduct signature verification — and does nothing to address ballot collecting.”

But some local Democrats, including County Executive Marc Elrich, have said the veto will make election workers’ tasks more difficult during the primary and general elections. Elrich has publicly pointed to the 2020 presidential election, when former president Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of mail-in ballots counted after Election Day. Trump challenged the validity of several counts in swing states, but courts either ruled against him or cases were dismissed in dozens of instances, according to news reports.

During WAMU’s The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi earlier this month, Elrich called Hogan’s veto “a recipe for disaster,” noting that “there’s a very good chance that more Republicans will vote on Election Day” than submit mail-in ballots and then distrust the results of elections released after mail-ballots are counted.

According to state election data, 637,604 mail-in ballots were sent to Montgomery County voters for the 2020 presidential primary election. Of those, 376,526 were sent to registered Democrats and 105,986 were sent to Republicans; the remaining 155,092 were sent to voters of other party affiliations or unregistered voters, who can vote in local Board of Education races. 

County residents returned 242,530 mail-in ballots. Of those, 184,036 were votes from Democrats, and 31,931 were from Republicans; other party affiliations returned 26,563 ballots.

For the 2020 presidential general election, 377,804 total ballots were sent to county voters, according to state election data. The number is likely lower because voters had to request a ballot in the general election, whereas in the primary mail-in ballots were automatically sent. 

Of those ballots, 258,749 were sent to Democrats, 42,342 were sent to Republicans and 76,713 were sent to other registered county voters. 

The county received a total of 348,293 mail-in ballots. Of those, 240,780 were from Democrats, 38,137 were from Republicans and 69,376 were from other voters. 

Arthur Edmunds, chair of the county’s Democratic Central Committee, said in an interview that Hogan’s decision to veto the state legislation was disappointing. That’s because it could delay the final results in close races, he said.

But Edmunds said he had confidence in local election workers and their ability to count votes in a secure fashion.

“We have confidence in our Board of Elections to do the right thing in terms of counting the votes,” Edmunds said. “We don’t have any issues or concerns about the end results.”

Reardon Sullivan, chair of the county’s Republican Central Committee and a candidate for county executive, said in an interview that he would not comment on the issue because he hadn’t had an opportunity to review the governor’s veto letter.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com

Steve Bohnel

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com