The Maryland Senate passed an election reform package designed to prevent a repeat of the 36-day delay in announcing the results of the 2022 Montgomery County primary election. Incumbent Marc Elrich was declared the Democratic nominee for Montgomery County Executive by just 32 votes, following a recount of thousands of ballots. The delay in results was caused in part by then-Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of legislation that would have permitted the counting of mail-in ballots before Election Day.
The new legislation, SB 379, passed by the Senate on Tuesday, requires county election boards to begin processing mail-in ballots eight business days before the start of early voting. The bill is one of eight pieces of election reform legislation proposed by Senator Cheryl Kagan to fix election scenarios. The legislation will provide a significant boost to larger jurisdictions like Montgomery County, which received more than 540,000 mail-in ballots during the 2022 general election.
The Senate also passed two other election reform bills, SB 339 and SB 863. SB 339 seeks to revamp the recount process by requiring local elections boards to manually count duplicate ballots after a review. SB 863 regulates the state elections administrator’s removal from office.
The remaining bills are pending approval from the House Ways and Means Committee. SB 111, which would apply campaign finance requirements to draft and exploratory committees, passed second reading in the Senate on Wednesday. SB 39 seeks to allow unaffiliated voters to register with a party up until the day before early voting begins, and SB 176 would require the state elections board to extend the primary election filing deadline in situations where there are fewer candidates for a political party than the number of nominations allowed for the party.
Maryland has closed primaries, meaning only voters registered with the Democratic or Republican parties can cast their ballots for partisan races in the primary election. SB 39 seeks to give unaffiliated voters access to the ballot by allowing them to register with a party up until the day before early voting begins.
Nikki Tyree, executive director of the Maryland League of Women Voters chapter, expressed her support for the legislation, saying voters expect to know the results on election night. “When that doesn’t happen, it’s just that the trust really, really breaks down,” she told Capital News Service.