SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — Rebecca Wilson has supervised the same polling location in Maryland’s Prince George’s County for every election since 2004, but her streak will end this fall. She has underlying health conditions that increase her risk of serious illness from a COVID-19 infection.
“I consider serving in the polling place my patriotic duty, and I love doing it, but I will not volunteer for an unnecessary suicide mission,” Wilson, 67, said Wednesday during an online news conference organized by voting rights advocates.
Other local election officials joined advocacy group leaders in urging Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to adjust his July 8 directive to hold a traditional election in November. They want him to expand mail-in voting for the general election to reduce health risks from crowded polling stations during the pandemic.
After long lines for in-person voting and problems with mail-in ballots for June’s primary, the Republican governor is directing local election officials to open all polling locations and early voting centers for the general election. Instead of requiring ballots to be automatically mailed to all eligible voters, which was done for the primary, Hogan is requiring the state to send them applications to request an absentee ballot.
Joanne Antoine, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said a “hybrid election” with automatically mailed ballots and in-person voting would be the safest option.
“We are still in a crisis, and we have no idea what October and November are going to look like,” she said during an online press briefing.
Joshua Sharfstein, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said maximizing the number of mail-in ballots will protect voters and poll workers.
“Imagine waking up feeling sick that day and having to decide between voting and protecting people who might be exposed,” he said. “The virus is hoping a lot of people show up to vote.”
Ballots were not sent on schedule to many voters before the June 2 primary. Many voters faced long lines because only four in-person voting centers were allowed in each of the state’s counties.
Hogan said at a news briefing Wednesday that the primary was an “unmitigated disaster,” but he noted that he doesn’t have any “purview” over the state elections board.
“I have almost no role whatsoever in the election process,” he said. “State law requires that they hold an election and that they open every precinct on Election Day.”
Hogan said existing state law allowed him to encourage the state board to mail absentee ballot applications to every voter.
“That was the only step I took,” he added. “That was after 30 days of the state board failing to reach any kind of a conclusion on any suggested changes in the state law.”
Earlier this month, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, warned of “devastating consequences” if the state doesn’t directly mail ballots to all eligible voters for the general election.
In response to Frosh’s comments, Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci indicated that the governor had no plans to change his directives.
“Brian Frosh is now suggesting that we ignore our election laws, limit options for voters, and suppress the vote by closing polling precincts,” Ricci said. “We will do none of that. We will follow the law, and actively encourage early voting, absentee voting-by-mail, and voting at off-peak times as safe and efficient options for voters.”
David Garreis, president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, said local election boards are experiencing unprecedented difficulty in recruiting poll workers for Election Day, with roughly 13,000 vacant positions statewide.
“Recruiting election judges is the most difficult task for the local boards under normal circumstances. In the midst of the public health crisis, it’s going to be very difficult if not impossible to make up for the election judge shortfall,” Garreis said.