ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland State Board of Elections voted Monday to file an emergency petition in court that seeks an earlier count of mail-in ballots for the general election in November.
The board voted 4-0 to seek a legal remedy in hopes of speeding up the vote count for mail-in ballots, which have become much more popular with voters in the state.
In a statement after the vote, the board said that the continued expansion of mail-in balloting and the inability of the local boards of elections to count mail-in ballots before Election Day could have significant implications.
"It could leave local, statewide, and even federal contests without certified results until late December 2022 or early January 2023," the board said. "Maryland is currently the only state in the union that forbids any kind of processing of mail-in ballots until after Election Day."
If approved, the petition would require any results tallied prior to Election Day be withheld until polls close on November 8.
Currently, mail-in ballots can't be counted until two days after Election Day. That caused delays in determining winners in the state's primary last month. The state elections board certified the primary election on Monday.
Maryland's primary was delayed by three weeks due to legal challenges involving congressional and legislative redistricting.
"[It has] certainly had its challenges," State Administrator of Elections Linda Lamone said. "The dates kept getting changed, everyone had a very, very short time to implement redistricting and we returned to a normal election but with significant increased amount of mail-in ballots."
Severn Miller, an elections board member, said the board is restricted in terms of what it has authority to do on its own on the matter.
"I think the appropriate avenue here is to seek judicial relief in a circuit court to allow the counting of mail-in ballots before Election Day, so that we can get ahead of the curve and to simply not release those results until after Election Day is completed," Miller said during a board meeting Monday.
About 345,230 mail-in ballots were received from around the state in the primary. That compares to 671,160 total votes cast in the Democratic gubernatorial primary and 295,068 total votes cast in the Republican gubernatorial primary.
Sen. Cheryl Kagan spoke to the board about a bill she sponsored that was passed by the General Assembly this year. The measure would have enabled mail-in ballots to begin to be counted before Election Day, but Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the bill.
"It was unfortunate and avoidable, but really big kudos to the four of you for just voting unanimously to bring a legal initiative, and we hope that that will be approved by the circuit court, and we can make sure that votes are counted in a timely manner," Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, said.
In his veto letter about the bill, the Republican governor cited election security concerns about another provision in the legislation that would have allowed voters who forget to sign their mail-in ballot envelope to do so after mailing it to get it counted.
Meanwhile, a recount is expected to begin this week in the race for the Democratic nomination for Montgomery County executive. Marc Elrich, the incumbent, leads David Blair by 35 votes.
A critical race on the ballot is the seat for Maryland's next governor. Wes Moore won the democratic nomination while opponent Dan Cox will be on the Republican ticket.
On the same day the primary election was certified, Cox held an office grand opening ceremony in Annapolis. There, he explained how he plans to rally voters in the next 85 days leading up to November 8.
"We're motivated, our grassroots are motivated and we have a distinctly different approach to freedom," Cox said. "It's about your freedom and the Wes Moore campaign is not so much about freedom. It's about more of the same with the Biden Administration approach."
Moore was not available to comment on the certification of the election but in the days following the primary election, the gubernatorial candidate wasted no time taking aim at Cox.
"Dan Cox represents the most extreme fringe of American politics and simply put, he's so far outside the mainstream that I believe he will be dangerous in the governor's office," Moore said.
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WJZ reporter Cristina Mendez contributed to this story.
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