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Maryland elections board seeking earlier mail-in ballot count

A woman drops a ballot into a drop box while casting her vote during Maryland’s primary election, Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Baltimore. The Maryland State Board of Elections voted Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, to file an emergency petition in court that seeks an earlier count of mail-in ballots for the general election in November. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland State Board of Elections voted Monday to file an emergency petition in court that seeks an earlier count of mail-in ballots for the general election in November.

The board voted 4-0 to seek a legal remedy in hopes of speeding up the vote count for mail-in ballots, which have become much more popular with voters in the state.

In a statement after the vote, the board said that the continued expansion of mail-in balloting and the inability of the local boards of elections to count mail-in ballots before Election Day could have significant implications.

“It could leave local, statewide, and even federal contests without certified results until late December 2022 or early January 2023,” the board said. “Maryland is currently the only state in the union that forbids any kind of processing of mail-in ballots until after Election Day.”

Currently, mail-in ballots can’t be counted until two days after Election Day. That caused delays in determining winners in the state’s primary last month. The state elections board certified the primary election on Monday.

Maryland’s primary was delayed by three weeks due to legal challenges involving congressional and legislative redistricting.

Severn Miller, an elections board member, said the board is restricted in terms of what it has authority to do on its own on the matter.

“I think the appropriate avenue here is to seek judicial relief in a circuit court to allow the counting of mail-in ballots before Election Day, so that we can get ahead of the curve and to simply not release those results until after Election Day is completed,” Miller said during a board meeting Monday.

About 345,230 mail-in ballots were received from around the state in the primary. That compares to 671,160 total votes cast in the Democratic gubernatorial primary and 295,068 total votes cast in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Sen. Cheryl Kagan spoke to the board about a bill she sponsored that was passed by the General Assembly this year. The measure would have enabled mail-in ballots to begin to be counted before Election Day, but Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the bill.

“It was unfortunate and avoidable, but really big kudos to the four of you for just voting unanimously to bring a legal initiative, and we hope that that will be approved by the circuit court, and we can make sure that votes are counted in a timely manner,” Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, said.

In his veto letter about the bill, the Republican governor cited election security concerns about another provision in the legislation that would have allowed voters who forget to sign their mail-in ballot envelope to do so after mailing it to get it counted.

Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said the governor supported the step taken by the elections board.

“The governor strongly supports the board finally taking action to adopt early canvassing — as he did for the 2020 election — and address the General Assembly’s failure to pass a simple bill that would have allowed it to happen,” Ricci said, adding that the administration hopes the court “will act swiftly.”

Meanwhile, a recount is expected to begin this week in the race for the Democratic nomination for Montgomery County executive. Marc Elrich, the incumbent, leads David Blair by 35 votes.