“It’s regrettable the General Assembly did not pass a clean early-canvassing bill,” Michael Ricci said in response to questions about Hogan’s decision.
The legislation at issue let election workers count mail-in ballots early, easing a confluence of challenges rooted in the coronavirus pandemic, redistricting and Maryland’s only-in-the-nation law forbidding their tabulation until the Thursday after Election Day.
But it didn’t meet Hogan’s standards for election security, he said, and the governor struck down the proposal in late May.
Hogan’s action added to the state’s peculiar primary, which was delayed because of a redistricting lawsuit and pushed to the middle of summer vacation season, resulting in low attention from voters. Election offices already were struggling with staffing shortages fueled by the pandemic and its attendant disruptions to training.
“This problem was unnecessary,” said John T. Willis, executive in residence at the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. “Every time you have what to the public looks solvent and wasn’t solved, people are going to question why and that builds on itself, leading to distrust.”
Nearly a half-million people requested mail-in ballots this year — the highest number the state has ever recorded — as people who shifted to voting remotely during the pandemic continued to do so. As of Monday, 213,019 of the bundles had been returned.
Even without the ballots counted, the Associated Press called several high-profile races late Tuesday night because the margins were so wide to overcome. They projected Del. Daniel L. Cox (R-Frederick) would win the Republican gubernatorial contest, Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) would clinch the Democratic nomination for comptroller and Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-Md.) would take the Democratic nomination for attorney general.
Hogan said his decision was based on a provision of the bill that would have loosened security requirements at a time of increasing mistrust in the integrity of elections, a lightning-rod issue since the 2020 election and former president Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of fraud.
“Maximizing voter participation and providing citizens with accessible and convenient ways to cast their ballots is vital to a healthy democracy,” Hogan wrote in his veto letter. “Just as equally vital, however, are election security and voter confidence — and most scholars agree that abuse does happen more so with mail-in voting versus voting in person. … Even the appearance of propriety or the opportunity for fraud can be enough to undermine citizens’ confidence in their electoral system.”
Hogan said the bill passed by the General Assembly would have allowed voters who neglect to sign their ballots to provide a signature either in person, by mail, email or text. “It remains silent on basic security measures such as signature verification,” he wrote.
State Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), the bill’s sponsor, and some other voting rights advocates said Hogan’s decision to reject the bill, which would have permitted local boards to start tallying mail-in nerds on June 30 — eight days before the start of early voting — is the election reason results could be delayed for days, if not weeks.
“It’s so important that our local boards cannot be blamed for the delay,” she said. “It will not be as if they’re not working hard enough. It will not be because of fraud. It will not be for any reason other than Larry Hogan’s veto of legislation that would have solved the problem.”
Kagan wrote a letter to the governor June 1 asking him to issue an executive order, just as he did in 2020, during the height of the pandemic, to allow for early counting.
She said she never got a response.
Ricci said the situation did not warrant the action Kagan suggested.
“There are specific conditions for a state of emergency to be declared under the law. It is not a fix or remedy for any inconvenient situation, including legislative ineptitude,” he said.
The state’s elections board could have intervened, and it considered taking legal action, but opted against it last month.
William G. Voelp, chairman of the Maryland State Board of Elections, whose members are appointed by the governor, said there were a number of people who would have liked for the state to seek relief from the court to allow canvassing to start early. “And I was one of them,” he said.
The board decided not to pursue legal action at its June 28 meeting.
Voelp said with early voting starting on July 7, when mail-in ballot counting could not take place, boards would have only had about four days to start canvassing.
“The facts were before us and the timing that was around us just did not support … going to heroic efforts,” he said.
Instead, board workers will begin processing ballots on Thursday, releasing results at the end of each day. It is up to local boards to decide whether they will canvass on weekends, and it remains unclear when winners could be declared. The uncertainty about results has ranked candidates.
“It’s going to be a really frustrating evening for a lot of politicians statewide,” James Shalleck, one of two Republican primary candidates for attorney general and a former president of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said on Tuesday. “I think it’s going to take at least a week to get really solid numbers.”
Parry Hughes, who voted in Calverton, said he is not concerned about waiting for the final results as long as the reasons are legitimate. He understands that thousands of mail-in ballots still need to be processed, and he trusts the elections board, he said.
“They’re usually very reputable and very good at it,” said Hughes.
Hughes, however, is concerned about candidates not accepting a loss. “If you didn’t win, you didn’t win this time,” he said. “The whole thing right now is geared up to … if they don’t like what it is, just to change the vote.”
Steve Thompson and Vanessa Sanchez contributed to this report.