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Maryland

Maryland has made enormous progress since the pandemic began in improving their mail voting system. Maryland has made permanent a variety of the emergency changes adopted in 2020 and can continue to strengthen its election system by making other changes not codified or allowed to expire permanent in law, including preprocessing, a cure process, and vote centers. As always, we stress that policy is important, but it is just as important that it is implemented well.

As of 2021....

No Excuse Required

No Excuse Required

No excuse to vote by mail

Online Mail Ballot Application

Online Mail Ballot Application

Apply for mail ballot online

Robust Ballot Return Option

Robust Ballot Return Option

U.S. mail, drop boxes, vote centers, and more

Prepaid Postage

Prepaid Postage

Postage-paid return envelopes provided

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Accepts ballots postmarked by Election Day

Ballot Tracking

Ballot Tracking

Online method to check ballot status

Signature Verification

Signature Verification

Voter signature verified before ballot is counted

Cure Process

Cure Process

Ability to correct issues so ballot can be counted

Preprocessing

Preprocessing

Election official may process ballot before Election Day

Opportunities

In the event that a voter’s ballot is rejected, said voter should have the ability to cure their ballot quickly and simply. Maryland created a cure process for 2020, but it has not been codified. As more voters use absentee ballots and, understandably, the number of rejected absentee ballots increases, we recommend implementing a Text2Cure system that allows voters to cure their ballots from their phones.
Creating vote centers that any voter in the county can vote at and allowing voters to drop off their absentee ballots at polling places would further lessen the reliance on the postal service and increase voter convenience and confidence. Maryland has already established vote centers as a result of the pandemic; however, the state should make these return options permanent fixtures for all future elections.
Ballot tracking software such as Ballot Scout or BallotTrax can be a very cost effective tool to improve Maryland’s current ballot tracking and increase voter confidence by allowing voters to track their ballot much like an Amazon package. It also adds a layer of data for the elections office who can also track the ballots to make sure they have reached their destination. Furthermore, these tools can be used as another modality to contact voters if there is a signature mismatch or deficiency on their return envelope. An expanded notification system helps keep rejection rates low and increases voter confidence and participation.
With a drastic increase in mail ballots, Maryland has a great opportunity to reach for the gold standard of post-election security by implementing risk limiting audits.
As use of absentee ballots increases, it is important to make sure that the ballots received are being filled out by the individuals they were sent to. Signature verification procedures ensure the security of the election process while also streamlining ballot processing.
Processing mail ballots to get them ready for counting before election day will help Maryland get faster election results. Maryland allowed preprocessing as a result of the pandemic; however, the state should make it permanent for all future elections. Preliminary data also suggests that preprocessing helps avoid any blue or red shifts when there are differences in the partisan lean of mail vs. in person ballots, which could increase voter confidence in the results of elections.

Recent Legislation

As of May 19, 2021

An Executive Order and three subsequent Proclamations jointly issued by the Governor and Secretary of State altered vote-at-home procedures for the 2020 election cycle. In 2020, the state conducted its spring special elections and primaries entirely by mail and mailed all voters’ applications for mail ballots for the general election. To facilitate this, the state acted quickly to add drop boxes, a cure process to allow the voter to correct errors they made, and preprocessing to ensure timely results. Additionally, they required at least one vote center, or location where any voter in the county can vote regardless of precinct, in each county. Finally, the state passed HB 37 to prepay return postage for mail ballots.

In 2021, dozens of bills were introduced to improve the mail voting system. In the end, only two of note to mail voting passed: HB1048/SB 683 and SB525. HB1048/SB 683 creates a permanent absentee list, makes drop boxes permanent, and requires the state to send out absentee applications to all voters for 2022 and 2024 elections. Additionally, SB525 adds ballot drop boxes for individuals in the Baltimore booking facility. While these are excellent strides towards progress, we recommend that other changes made during 2020, like a cure process and preprocessing, also be made permanent.