Mail-in and provisional ballots at the Montgomery College Germantown campus earlier this month. Credit: Steve Bohnel

This story was updated at 5:45 p.m. Aug. 15, 2022, to include comment from Gov. Larry Hogan’s office.

The State Board of Elections voted unanimously Monday to seek “emergency relief” in local courts to allow county election boards to begin counting mail-in ballots before Election Day in November.

Board members agreed to pursue the relief, similar to an injunction, in circuit courts throughout the state, asking that local boards be given the authority to review and count mail-in ballots when they are received, but not post results until the polls close. 

In Montgomery County, election workers spent more than 10 days counting about 75,000 mail-in ballots, which led to delays in posting final results from the July 19 primary election. The lengthy process mostly impacted the county executive race, as incumbent Marc Elrich and challenger David Blair of Potomac waited for the results in their second match-up in the Democratic primary. Results certified Saturday for the county Board of Elections show that Elrich beat Blair by 35 votes. According to a campaign spokesperson, Blair will file a request Tuesday for a recount, which is expected to begin later this week.

According to state law, local election workers could not begin reviewing mail-in ballots until July 21, two days after the primary election day. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vetoed legislation in May — whose lead sponsor was state Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D) — that would have allowed local election officials to count mail-in ballots up to eight days before early voting, which was held July 7-14.

Hogan said he objected to language in the bill that would have allowed mail-in voters to “cure” their ballots using a text message to verify their signatures. Kagan said earlier this month that the practice previously had been used in county elections — including this year’s primary — and that the practice was safe, secure, and manageable for local election workers. 

Kagan said Monday that she is “optimistic” that the courts will grant the emergency relief so that mail-in ballot counting can begin before the Nov. 8 gubernatorial general election.

Kagan noted that if the relief isn’t granted, local election officials would be facing a tight timeline to count all the ballots and certify election results before the scheduled swearing-in of local officials in early December.

“This isn’t a hypothetical problem, we have the data and the reality is that we’ve had an astronomical increase in the request and use of mail-in ballots,” Kagan said. “And we must allow our local boards of elections to start counting ballots early.”

Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, wrote in an email: “The governor strongly supports the board finally taking action to adopt early canvassing—as he did for the 2020 election—and address the General Assembly’s failure to pass a simple bill that would have allowed it to happen. We hope that the court will act swiftly, and that the legislature will act in the future to codify the governor’s successful early canvassing measure.”

Kevin Karpinski, an attorney for the county’s Board of Elections, told members during a meeting Friday that Montgomery County would work with the state’s other largest jurisdictions to move the mail-in ballot canvass up as soon as Oct. 1. 

“The state [of Maryland] will be filing [the counties’ request]  but we will provide necessary assistance with submitting affidavits and other supporting documentation,” Karpinski told the board.