Maryland Court Approves Early Processing of Mail-In Ballots
Sep 26, 2022, Maryland - Kevin Kinnally
Last week, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge ruled that local boards of elections can start processing mail-in ballots for the November election before the polls close on election day — which is essential for reporting timely results.
As more voters opt to cast mail-in ballots, local boards require flexibility to meet critical certification deadlines and provide meaningful results after the polls close on election day. The ruling, issued by Judge James A. Bonifant, allows local boards to begin processing ballots on October 1.
As previously reported on Conduit Street, Governor Hogan vetoed emergency legislation to provide local boards of elections with necessary and reasonable flexibility to canvass mail-in ballots, which led to delays in processing an unprecedented number of mail-in votes during July's Primary Election. The veto undoubtedly put more pressure on local boards of elections, which are already operating under strenuous circumstances because of delays with redistricting data, pandemic-driven supply shortages, difficulties recruiting election judges, and the spread of false information.
State regulations prohibit local boards from canvassing mail-in ballots until the Thursday following an election. SB 163, sponsored by Senator Cheryl Kagan, would have allowed the canvassing (but not tabulation) of mail-in votes up to eight days before early voting. MACo supported the bill with clarifying and technical amendments.
The bill also addressed ballot curing, the process to allow voters to fix problems (such as missing signatures) with mail-in ballots to ensure that their votes count. The bill would have provided several ways for voters to deliver a missing signature — in-person, mail, email, and text.
Over 26 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2022 Primary Election. a higher turnout than three of the last four gubernatorial primary elections. Most Marylanders voted in person (65 percent), with 47 percent of total votes cast on election day and 17 percent during early voting.
Before the 2020 elections, turnout by mail was around 6-8 percent of the total turnout. About 35 percent of voters who voted in the 2022 Primary Election voted by mail. Nearly 500,000 voters requested a mail-in ballot, and almost 70 percent of those sent were voted and returned.