A ballot box for the June primary election outside the Edward Bohrer Recreation Center in Gaithersburg. File photo
The Senate’s Education, Health and Environment Committee on Thursday embarked on several reforms to the general election, including a proposal to permanently expand ballot boxes across the state.
House Bill 1047, introduced by Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery), includes a number of reforms aimed at improving access to postal ballot papers, including more robust tracking of postal ballot papers and an increase in the number of popular ballot papers.
When Wilkins presented her legislation to committee members on Thursday, she stressed the bill’s requirements for additional security measures for the dispensing box, such as: B. Video surveillance. She also noted that her proposal requires election officials to publish a report on voter turnout and the impact of electoral policy on voting after each national election.
The bill is widely supported by proponents of voting rights. Common Cause Maryland executive director Joanne Antoine told committee members on Thursday that legislation is “critical” to ensuring voters’ confidence in postal voting.
Ben Jackson, a disability rights attorney in Maryland, told lawmakers that the provisions of the law will make voting more accessible for people with disabilities. The bill requires that ballot boxes comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Senator Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) asked Wilkins about a possible revision of the bill to include an “insurance policy” for local electoral officers in postage, citing the decision of Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to each enrolled To send voters a postal vote request during last year’s primaries.
Wilkins noted that election costs had been a “big problem” in the past and said she would welcome more specific cost-sharing language in the bill. State and local electoral bodies traditionally split the cost of voting equally in Maryland.
The proposal inspired partisan back-and-forth in the House over the issue of election security: Republicans raised concerns about the harvest of ballots or the mass capture and distribution of postal ballots, but were turned down by Democrats, who pointed out security measures already in place to order Stop fraud.
“There is electoral fraud,” House majority leader Eric G. Luedke (D-Montgomery) said before the bill was approved by the House in March. “And we built a system to stop it.”
Wilkins said at the time that she was “surprised” by the Republicans’ backlash on the bill, given regulations on tracking ballot papers and putting additional security measures in place for ballot boxes.
The members of the Senate Committee also adopted Bill 1068 by Del. Jessica M. Feldmark (D-Howard), who would codify a pandemic-related state election policy about what officials should do against multiple ballots cast by the same voter. Under current law, both will be rejected if a local electoral authority receives both a preliminary and a postal vote.
Given the unprecedented use of postal ballot papers over the past year, the State Board of Elections passed a temporary policy requiring local authorities to accept a postal vote and decline a preliminary vote if they were both received by the same voter. Feldmark’s proposal would make this policy permanent.
“Current regulations require that both ballots be rejected, which means that the voter who most likely cast this preliminary ballot, just to ensure that their vote has been counted, will lose their vote in the elections,” Feldmark said.
Senate Minority Chairman Byran W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) was skeptical of Feldmark’s bill. He feared that a voter who had stolen his postal ballot and submitted it by someone else would no longer be able to cast a ballot.
“There are no checks after you mail it,” said Simonaire.
Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance for the State Board of Elections, noted that stealing a postal vote and impersonating a voter are already illegal and would be investigated if reported by a voter.
Kagan suggested reviving the bill to include an early start date for acquisitions – another measure temporarily passed by the State Board of Elections due to the influx of postal ballots last year. Kagan said postponing the advertising date would allow election officials to communicate with voters about issues with their postal ballot papers.
The Senate panel is also considering a proposal from Del. William J. Wivell (R-Washington) removing a voter’s party affiliation from the outside of postal voting envelopes. Wivell told lawmakers Thursday that the proposal is “probably the simplest bill you will consider at this session.” The proposal was passed unanimously from the House in March.
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