Rockville, Md., July 28, 2020—Today the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for Gov. Larry Hogan to make voting as easy and as safe as possible for Marylanders by mailing all registered voters a ballot for the Nov. 3 general election with a postage prepaid, return envelope. In addition, the Council is requesting that touch-free drop boxes be provided for voters to submit their completed ballots, and that local election boards be empowered to recommend the appropriate number of early voting sites and polling places after consulting with their county health officers. The resolution was spearheaded by Council Vice President Tom Hucker and Councilmembers Nancy Navarro and Gabe Albornoz and was sponsored by the entire Council.
“Maryland should learn from June’s primary election and build on it for November,” said Council Vice President Tom Hucker. “Substantially changing the procedures for the general election now will confuse voters, undermine confidence, add costs and create unnecessary health risks for voters, staff and volunteers. We urge the state to reconsider.”
“Gov. Hogan should heed the call of so many Maryland residents--many here in Montgomery County,” said Council President Sidney Katz. “During this worldwide pandemic, the best way to ensure the health and safety of our residents and stop the spread of COVID-19 is to limit interactions as much as possible. This is best accomplished by mail-in voting, and mailing ballots to every voter is the best way to achieve this.”
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and numerous health experts have recommended that voters consider alternatives to casting ballots in person, on July 8 Gov. Hogan ordered the opening of polling places and early voting centers across the state.
“I am proud to lend my name to this resolution, calling for common-sense solutions to help our residents exercise their democratic rights during this pandemic,” said Councilmember Nancy Navarro. “Preserving the right to vote while taking appropriate steps to ensure public health is one of the foremost challenges of this crisis. We urge Gov. Hogan to consider the lessons learned during the 2020 Presidential Primary Election and use them to serve as key guidance to implement a successful mail-in 2020 Presidential General Election. The Council stands ready to provide whatever assistance it can at the local level to ensure our democratic process operates as smoothly as possible, with as few barriers as possible for eligible voters.”
Maryland election officials have warned the governor that processing absentee ballot applications might overwhelm elections systems. Moreover, both state and county election officials have expressed concerns about whether enough poll workers and election judges can be recruited for in-person voting amid the pandemic because many are older residents who are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 complications.
Councilmember Gabe Albornoz said, “In the coming general election, the safety of our voters, election judges and other election officials is paramount. Our top election official is telling us that we will not have enough judges to conduct this election without long lines and serious safety issues. The end result with the current approach will be the disenfranchisement of our voters.”
The Council resolution states that requiring voters to appear in person to cast their ballots unnecessarily puts voters’ lives and the lives of poll workers at risk. In Maryland as of July 28, there are 85,524 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,327 deaths, and in Montgomery County there are 17,230 confirmed cases and 748 deaths. Maryland has been operating under a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic since March 5.
“We must make voting as easy as possible, as accessible as possible and as safe as possible,” said Councilmember Andrew Friedson. “And we need to follow the consensus of local elections experts and public health officials. Gov. Hogan’s disappointing decision to not offer automatic mail-in ballots clearly restricts access and does not follow the experts’ guidance and advice.”
The resolution also states that Gov. Hogan’s change in strategy from the primary election, where most registered voters automatically received their ballots by mail, could confuse voters, who will not understand that they need to apply for absentee ballots for the general election. Mailing a ballot to all registered voters would eliminate this issue and help to maximize voter participation.
Councilmember Evan Glass said, “Our democratic system is only as good as our citizens’ ability to cast their ballots. In the midst of an unprecedented health pandemic, we need to ensure that citizens can safely vote, which will require that mail-in ballots be automatically sent to every registered voter. Additional hurdles should not be placed on citizens during this unparalleled election.”
“The future of our country and the fate of our democracy rest on voter participation,” said Councilmember Will Jawando. “The first responsibility of every pubic office holder should be to ensure that every voter has the opportunity to safely cast a ballot. During a global pandemic, the only way to do this is to give residents an accessible option to vote by mail, and we should take every step to ensure no voter is blocked from voting by acts of either unnecessary bureaucracy or willful suppression.”
Councilmember Craig Rice said, “COVID-19 has posed unprecedented challenges to our 2020 election. Voting by mail is the safest way to limit potential exposure and having all registered voters automatically mailed their ballots ensures expansion of access and ease of process while reducing health risks.”
“There is absolutely no reason for Maryland residents to have to choose between fighting COVID-19 and exercising the right to vote,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer. “The state should mail every voter a ballot that they can fill out and return well in advance of Election Day. That will make it easy for everyone to cast votes safely at home.”
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