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Gubernatorial nominee Cox seeks to block early counting of mail-in ballots

Dan Cox, a candidate for the Maryland Republican gubernatorial nomination, speaks to reporters at his campaign party on primary night, July 19, 2022, in Emmitsburg. (Kenneth K. Lam/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Maryland’s Republican nominee for governor has filed a motion to block a court order that would allow the early counting of mail-in ballots in the general election.

The motion filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court was announced by Dan Cox on Thursday.

RELATED: As Cox seeks to block early counting, officials say they expect massive mail-in vote

“One of the reasons so many Marylanders, along with millions more around the country, have lingering questions and doubts about the 2020 election is precisely because of situations like this,” Cox, a state delegate and Republican nominee for governor, said in a statement. “In 2020, courts and executives throughout the nation overrode election law in response to the COVID-19 executive orders, changing the rules in the middle of the game — without the democratically-elected legislatures having a say at all.”

Cox has rejected the 2020 presidential election results in which Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican incumbent Donald Trump. He organized a group of buses to a January Stop the Steal rally and was later endorsed by the former president. He also called then Vice President Mike Pence “a traitor” for not blocking the certification of the election. Cox later apologized for that statement.

Cox’s running mate has made unsubstantiated claims about election chicanery in some rural Maryland counties.

The Maryland State Board of Elections filed for a court order two weeks ago. If granted, boards of elections around the state would be allowed to count mail-in ballots as they are received. Results would not be released until polls close on Election Day.

A spokesman for the board declined comment citing a pending hearing.

Carter Elliott, a spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore, said such motions are meant to stall Maryland’s election.

“At some point, we have to be honest about the fact that Dan Cox just isn’t all that into the foundation of American democracy — fair and free elections,” said Elliott. “He started with denying the 2020 election, then escalated to busing folks to the Capitol on Jan. 6th, and now he’s attempting to directly affect Maryland’s elections by slowing down our electoral process. These attacks are not only dangerous to Maryland but to our democracy as a whole.”

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate David Lashar called Cox’s motion “whatsoever the legal reasoning might be, to be yet one more example of him engaging in Trumpian political theater instead of working toward reasonable solutions for the kinds of complex problems that arise in the real world for our governor to resolve.”

In an email, Lashar said he supports the elections boards effort to obtain a court order as a short-term solution “to reduce the chances of drawn-out counts in the days and weeks after Nov. 8.”

The process envisioned by the state elections board would be similar to that used in 2020 under an emergency order issued by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a bill that would have made the practice of counting mail-in ballots used in 2020 permanent. Hogan vetoed the bill saying it did not include language barring so-called “ballot harvesting” and other issues raised by Republicans.

In 2020, the state expanded the use of mail-in ballots as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two years later, voting by mail continues to be popular. More than 345,000 people state wife voted by mail in the July primary. That was 10 times more than in 2018.

The sheer number overwhelmed local boards of elections in large urban counties.

Because mail-in votes could not be counted before primary day, a number of jurisdictions, including Baltimore and Montgomery County, experienced days and weeks of delays in finalizing election results.

“The emergency declaration expired earlier this year. There is no ‘emergency’. There are no more excuses for not following the law,” Cox said in his statement. “In order to ensure free and fair elections, it is absolutely critical that our election laws are followed, that every vote is cast in a secure manner, and that every vote is verified. The Board of Elections asking the courts to change the rules of election weeks prior to the election being held is unacceptable, and further undermines trust in the outcome of elections. 

State law, however, allows elections officials to seek a court order in extenuating circumstances such as the large number of mail-in ballots.

In August, elections officials said they’d file an emergency petition allowing the counting. Cox said he would seek to oppose the effort.