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Annapolis - The Maryland House Voted 95-38 to establish a permanent vote by mail list. House Bill 1048 is sponsored by Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins (District 20, Montgomery County).
Maryland, like many states, offers “no excuse” absentee or mail-in ballots, meaning that eligible voters can request a mail-in ballot without having to provide a reason. This is particularly useful for elderly people, people with disabilities, and people who otherwise prefer to vote by mail. The bill’s provisions would enable eligible voters to apply to be on a permanent mail-in ballot list, receiving a ballot in the mail for every upcoming election without having to apply again each time.
Testifying on behalf of the League of Women Voters, Linda Kohn noted that, “Even though it's called a ‘permanent’ list, voters will be able to remove their name from the list if desired. It's the voter's choice to opt in.”
Because HB 1048 will ensure these voters don’t have to fill out the same form for every election, it’s more efficient for both voters and elections administrators and will reduce the likelihood of voters missing the ballot request deadline. The bill also outlines how the Board of Elections should handle ballots that are undeliverable or are not returned by the voter.
“A permanent absentee voter list is a tool to increase equity, reduce barriers, maintain enfranchisement and participation for disabled voters, all hallmarks of a healthy democracy,” explained Ben Jacskon, staff attorney with Disability Rights Maryland.
Due to COVID-19, there was record vote-by-mail participation in 2020, when 50% of Maryland voters chose to use this method for the Presidential Election. Election experts expect voting by mail to remain an attractive option in future elections now that voters are comfortable with the system.
“Vote by mail is increasingly popular among Maryland voters, and we should do everything we can to make sure the system is easy to use, secure, and efficient,” said Maryland PIRG director Emily Scarr. “A permanent mail-in voter list is a win for voters, elections staff, and our democracy.”
Multiple states allow any eligible voter to opt into a permanent mail-in voting list, including Arizona, California, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia. In these states, establishing a permanent list has achieved multiple benefits: creating greater convenience as voters no longer have to request a ballot multiple times per year; cutting costs as the need for processing ballot requests is greatly reduced; and helping to increase overall participation in elections.
“This legislation sponsored by Del. Wilkins is an important democracy strengthening measure that will increase efficiency, ease, and access in voting,” applauded Rev. Kobi Little, Maryland NAACP Vice President and Political Action Chairman.
The bill now heads to the Maryland Senate, where a similar bill, SB 683, had a hearing on March 3rd.
In response to the increased interest in voting vote by mail, Maryland legislators have introduced a variety of bills to update and improve the system, including the following:
- HB 1047, the Vote By Mail Improvement Act, will make drop boxes permanent, ensure they are ADA accessible, enact ballot tracking for mail-in ballots, and establish a process for voters to “cure” a ballot if the oath is unsigned (curing also addressed in HB1345).
- Multiple bills (HB 760, SB 831) will allow local boards of election to begin processing mail-in ballots in advance of Election Day, while reserving tabulation until polls close. This was the practice in 2020, and will help speed up election results and certification.
- Multiple Bills (SB 831, HB1345) improve ballot design and instruction or add a voluntary privacy sleeve to mail-in ballots, a simple-to-use solution to voter concerns about ballot secrecy during initial processing.
Maryland PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) is a state based, non-partisan, citizen funded public interest advocacy organization with grassroots members across the state and a student funded, student directed chapter at the University of Maryland College Park. For forty five years we’ve stood up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.
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