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Judge Rules Maryland Can Start Counting Mail-In Ballots Oct. 1

September 23, 2022 by Dan McCue
Judge Rules Maryland Can Start Counting Mail-In Ballots Oct. 1
A woman drops a ballot into a drop box while casting her vote during Maryland's primary election, Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Board of Elections officials across the state of Maryland can begin counting mail-in ballots for the November election on Oct. 1, a state circuit court judge ruled on Friday.

The Maryland State Board of Elections had filed a petition asking for emergency authorization to begin counting earlier than state law allows in the hope of avoiding a duplication of the delays the state experienced after the July primary.

Ruling from the bench, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James Bonifant rejected an argument raised by Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox, who said during a hearing earlier this week that deciding in favor of the board of elections would violate the separation of powers established in the state constitution. 

He also maintained the situation did not constitute an emergency. In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state did institute early canvasing to deal with the deluge of absentee ballots that year.

Maryland elections officials had sought the ability to start counting early after being surprised that a total 499,300 people requested mail-in ballots for the July 19 primaries.

Of those, 213,000 were returned prior to primary day, which left an untold number of the 286,300 remaining waiting to be counted. In Maryland, mail-in ballots are considered valid up to 10 days after an election so long as they are postmarked by Election Day.

In a joint statement, the Maryland State Board of Elections said the ruling would provide election officials with additional time to canvass and tabulate these ballots to ensure that all critical election-related deadlines established by law are met. 

“It also enables elections officials to return to a well-established process of canvassing mail-in ballots prior to Election Day, which was allowed in the 2020 general election,” it said.

“SBE looks forward to working with the local boards of elections to resume best practices for the timely canvassing of mail-in ballots. Ballots to requesting military and overseas voters started today as required by federal law, and ballots to other requesting voters will be mailed next week. 

“Pre-Election Day canvassing will be conducted in public on published dates. The results of pre-election canvasses will be withheld until the polls close on Election Day,” the statement said.

After the decision was announced, outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan also said he welcomed Judge Bonifant’s decision.

Hogan noted that early counting of mail-in ballots worked well in 2020, “but partisan legislators dropped the ball on adopting our successful approach, making this step necessary.”

“We thank the court for acting swiftly, and encourage Marylanders to take part in the electoral process, make sure their registration is up to date, and consider volunteering to serve as an election judge,” Hogan said.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and @DanMcCue

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