Hogan outlines election plans

CUMBERLAND — While it’s hard to predict what effects Gov. Larry Hogan’s letter to the state Board of Elections will have on the November general election in Allegany County, the county’s election administrator said she can say for certain they will need more volunteers than they had in June.

In a Wednesday letter to state Board of Elections Chairman Michael Cogan, Hogan expressed concerns about the body’s handling of the June primary. In March, Hogan postponed the April 28 election to June 2 as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed statewide.

While in-person voting was permitted, Maryland voters were to all receive absentee ballots, a measure intended to lessen the amount of people at polling places. Still, there were problems with the distribution of ballots, with some folks never receiving one, among other issues. Unintended though they may have been, such errors, Hogan wrote, “potentially resulted in disenfranchisement and suppression of primary voters.”

To that end, in November, all early voting centers will be open, as will all polling places in a given county or city on Election Day. Additionally, Hogan directed the state body to distribute absentee ballot requests to all voters.

“Every effort should be made to promote early voting, absentee voting by mail, and voting at off-peak times as safe and efficient options,” Hogan wrote.

The primary in Allegany County fared well, all things considered, administrator Diane Loibel told the Times-News on Wednesday. When she read Hogan’s letter, Loibel said, she was “surprised.”

Of those who voted last month, Loibel said, only 525 did so in person at the county government complex, the only available polling place in the county. In November, all 36 of the county’s usual polling places will have to be open, and Loibel said she is concerned about the local election board’s ability to recruit enough volunteers to man the stations.

It takes 340 volunteers on Election Day and 96 to man the early voting center, Loibel said. Before elections were postponed earlier this year, she said, they’d been able to recruit enough volunteers. After the shift to absentee voting occurred, Loibel said she reached out to all 340 judges and received an affirmative response from just 80.

The older age of many election judges is a point of concern, Loibel said, as they’re the demographic most vulnerable to COVID-19, as well as the bulk of her volunteer base.

“With today’s letter from the governor, we are just hoping we’ll be able to find enough poll workers to staff the polling places who are willing to work during this public health crisis,” Loibel said.

Loibel said her office has already ordered their stock of PPE in anticipation of in-person voting, and hopes it will be enough once the time rolls around. Allegany County hasn’t been hit as hard as other parts of the state, Loibel noted, but it’s impossible to say if that will remain the case. Accordingly, preparing for that day will be “a challenge,” she said.

“Without knowing the state the county will be in … will it be the same come November?” Loibel said. “... It’s hard to say.”

Election Day is Nov. 3.

Follow staff writer Lindsay Renner-Wood on Twitter @LindsayRenWood.

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Lindsay Renner-Wood is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News, covering West Virginia and more. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayRenWood, email lrenner-wood@times-news.com or call 304-639-4403.