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Lamone: Absentee ballot applications to be mailed this month

"We are committed to making the changes needed and ensuring that the mistakes are not repeated because we want to have a very successful November election," says Maryland Elections Administrator Linda Lamone. (File Photo)

Governor Larry Hogan sent a letter to the State Board of Elections and Elections Administrator Linda Lamone asking for an update on progress in mailing an absentee ballot applications to every registered voter. He gave them until the end of the day Wednesday to respond. (File Photo)

The first batch of more than 4 million absentee ballot applications will be mailed in less than three weeks, according to the state’s top election official.

The announcement came late Tuesday in a letter from state Elections Administrator Linda Lamone in a two-page letter to Gov. Larry Hogan. 

Lamone, responding to a Aug. 3 letter from Hogan, said her agency “has been working closely and diligently with the local boards of elections to plan for an election as defined by” state law.

In her letter, Lamone lays out a timeline of activities beginning July 9 and ending with the last applications being mailed later this month. The long-time administrator said the last batch of applications should go out no later than Aug. 31.

In a typical year, the first absentee ballots are not mailed to voters until 45 days before the election with the first batch sent to overseas and military voters. 

Lamone, in her letter, said the board will need additional help processing returned applications “or voters will not receive their mail-in ballots in time to vote and return them.”

The letter comes a day ahead of an Aug. 5 deadline Hogan set in a letter earlier this week. In the letter, an irritated governor expressed concerns about what he saw as an apparent lack of action and preparation for the upcoming general election in November.

“More than two months have passed, and you still have not provided a plan for how you are going to conduct an election,” Hogan wrote. “This is your sole responsibility and your only job. Instead we have seen two months of delay and deflection about why polls can’t be opened, and why applications for ballots can’t be mailed.”

Hogan, in a July 8 letter, ordered the board to conduct an in-person election including early voting while also requiring that each registered voter be mailed an absentee ballot application. The plan was one of three options sent to the governor by the board after he had asked them to present him with one plan along with a report explaining the failures of the June 2 primary.

The primary election, altered and delayed because of the ongoing pandemic, was plagued with problems.

Thousands of ballots were returned because of a lack of correct addresses. Some jurisdictions reported long wait times at the few open polling places — particularly in areas of high numbers of minority voters. In other cases, snafus resulted in tens of thousands of ballots mailed late to Montgomery County and Baltimore city. Additionally, some city ballots contained errors that resulted in returns being temporarily pulled from a state website.

Some officials including Comptroller Peter Franchot and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford called for Lamone to resign. A change in the law in 2005 prevents the governor from removing Lamone. Instead, she serves at the pleasure of the board and Lamone would continue to serve until the Maryland Senate approved her replacement.

Some jurisdictions have expressed concerns about having enough poll workers to fully staff an in-person election. A great many poll workers are retirees and senior citizens, those at highest risk for the most severe health effects associated with COVID-19. Other jurisdictions are reporting difficulties in securing private buildings previously used for polling places because of the pandemic.

Lamone, in her letter, thanked Hogan for giving state employees off on election day and encouraging them to work as poll judges. As many as 2,500 applications to serve in those positions have already been submitted online, she said.

She also thanked the governor for assistance in finding some of the protective equipment that will be needed as well as money to pay for “unexpected expenses for this election.”

Prince George’s County officials last month in a letter said they were considering condensing 244 polling places into just 15, according to Hogan. The result, he said, would be voter suppression and disenfranchisement.

“Further attempts to suppress the vote by massive closures of polls must be stopped or there will be serious consequences,” wrote Hogan. “Without your immediate action to fix these issues, it is very likely that you will again have massive failures of the June primary repeated in November.”

Lamone said some plans to consolidate polls have been received and would be considered at the board’s next meeting on Wednesday. 

“I am confident the state board will carefully consider these requests, receive advice from the Office of the Attorney General, and take appropriate action,” wrote Lamone.

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