Maryland Governor Vetoes Elections Bills
In one of his last actions on legislation, Hogan vetoes bills to make what he described as “positive changes to State election law”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has vetoed legislation that would have
- allowed elections clerks to pre-process mail-in ballots, so they can count the votes and announce results more quickly;
- created a statutory process allowing voters the opportunity to “cure” mistakes on their mail-in ballots, rather than having the ballots rejected; and
- provided for precinct-level reporting of early voting, mail-in voting and provisional ballots.
His rejections of HB 862 and SB 163 were announced late Friday afternoon, as part of a package of 18 vetoes.
Gov. Hogan’s veto message praised the legislation as offering “positive changes to State election law” – but he still vetoed the bills. Gov. Hogan attributed his vetoes to the fact that the legislation did not also address ballot collection or signature verification.
The vetoes do not appear to have any strategic value; they do not create any political leverage with the Legislature. Gov. Hogan is term-limited, and will not be in office when the state Legislature begins its new session next year.
Thirty-eight states and the Virgin Islands explicitly authorize election officials to begin processing mail-in ballots prior to the election; in two other states and Puerto Rico, there is no statutory restriction on when processing may start. Nine states and Washington, D.C. permit election officials to begin processing mail-in ballots on Election Day, but prior to the closing of the polls. Maryland is the only state that does not permit the processing of mail-in ballots until after the polls close on Election Day.
At least 24 states have statutory provisions allowing voters to “cure” mistakes in their mail-in ballots. The process allows election officials to reach out to any voter that has a remediable issue with their submitted ballot, such as a missing oath or signature, and allows voters to fix the mistake so the ballot can be counted. In Maryland’s June 2020 primary, almost 35,000 mail-in ballots were rejected; in the 2020 presidential election, another 0.24% of mail-in ballots were rejected.
The State Board of Elections can still use its rule-making authority to create precinct-level reporting and a statewide “cure” process. Local boards of elections can also create “cure” processes using their regulatory authority.
“After two legislative sessions working on these changes, Common Cause Maryland is extremely disappointed in Governor Hogan’s decision to veto earlier election results and a statutory process for ‘curing’ ballots,” said Common Cause Maryland policy & engagement manager Morgan Drayton. “Maryland will have to wait for a new administration and a new Legislature before ballots can be pre-processed, but we urge Maryland’s state and local elections boards to use their rule-making authority now to create a ‘cure’ process and a system for precinct-level reporting.”
“A ‘cure’ process is particularly needed for voters in vulnerable communities who must vote by mail, like voters with disabilities, students, and the elderly. It also allows voters juggling family and job responsibilities to vote by mail with confidence that their ballots will be counted, and not rejected because of fixable mistakes,” Drayton added.
“It’s confusing that the governor vetoed an elections’ process bill, despite saying in a public letter that he supports its content,” said Emily Scarr, director of Maryland PIRG. “In the spirit of strengthening our democracy, Maryland PIRG is disappointed that Governor Hogan has chosen to throw out the baby with the bathwater by ignoring the common ground he has with so many legislators and constituents from both parties.”
“While this might play well for the Governor nationally, he’s sacrificed Maryland knowing this bill would have eased time constraints and workload for our Election Officials,” said Nikki Tyree, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Maryland. “Even Governor Hogan could not ignore the positive change SB 163 would bring and instead chose to roll back changes that resulted in the largest voter turnout.”
Ballot collection has become the topic of politically polarized debate nationwide. Maryland state law currently allows a “designated agent” to pick up and return another person’s mail-in ballot. The agent must be at least 18 years old; not a candidate on that ballot; and designated in a written statement signed by the voter under penalty of perjury. The agent must also execute an affidavit under penalty of perjury that the ballot was returned to the local board by the agent. Hogan’s Friday veto message did not describe what changes he wants made to that statute.
Signature verification of mail-in ballots has also been a politically-polarized topic, particularly after demands that Georgia conduct a signature audit in Cobb County. Racial differences in ballot rejection rates have been found by multiple studies. Most recently, auditors in Washington State found that, in 2020, signatures of Black voters were rejected at four times the rate of white voters. Native American, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific Islander voters also had higher rejection rates than white voters.
Maryland state law requires voters using mail-in ballots to swear an oath, under penalties of perjury, that they are qualified to vote and personally voted their ballot. Only one ballot is counted per voter. Other states that do not require verification of signatures include Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wyoming.
Everyone Votes Maryland is a nonpartisan coalition of national, state, and grassroots organizations dedicated to ensuring that all eligible Marylanders can have their voices heard on Election Day.
Read this release online here.