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Maryland has been among the most aggressive states in the country over the past two years in making access to voting more equitable.

Since 2020, the heavily Democratic Maryland state legislature has passed and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signed new state laws that expand access to early voting and absentee ballots; improve voting access for students, veterans and incarcerated people; and expand access to ballot drop boxes.

The state now guarantees an extensive early voting period and requires that in-person early voting polling places be open at similar hours to Election Day polling places. It also requires a minimum number of early voting polling place locations based on population.

Maryland will provide pre-paid postage for the return of mail-in ballots and allow voters to request they be put on the state’s “permanent list” for voting absentee by mail.

The changes set consistent local standards for the number and placement of secure drop boxes to receive absentee ballots, including that they be accessible by public transportation if it’s available.

And new legislation also requires local election officials to get input from colleges, nursing homes, military bases and large senior housing complexes on how to locate polling places in an accessible way. It requires public colleges and universities to establish a “student voting coordinator” to develop a plan to increase student voter registration and turnout.

GOP governor blocks some changes

While Hogan has resisted his party’s embrace of former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” about voter fraud, he vetoed a bill that would have allowed voters to make sure their absentee ballot counts if they forget to sign the envelope that accompanies it. He cited the state’s lack of a “signature matching” requirement to verify voters’ identity. Signature matching requirements have been criticized as a disenfranchisement tactic in other states. 

The conservative Heritage Foundation has cited zero instances of alleged voter fraud in Maryland since 2018. 

An election hotline and email account dedicated to receiving complaints of voter intimidation and harassment in Maryland was set up during the 2020 presidential election. It received few reports.

About this series

This project looks at the state of voting access, voting rights and inequities in political representation in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Hogan is the state’s second Republican governor in 50 years. After serving two four-year terms, he expressed dismay that party voters selected a far-right state legislator as their nominee to succeed him. Maryland Del. Dan Cox has embraced Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud and supported an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Cox took part in the rally  on Jan. 6, 2021, that preceded Trump supporters’ attack on the Capitol. Cox said afterward that he did not participate in that attack and denounced “all mob violence.”

Easy to vote, difficult to count

Maryland residents can register to vote online or submit an application to their local or state boards of elections. Voters can also register to vote in person on Election Day. In 2018, the state legislature approved a bill establishing automatic voter registration, which registers eligible individuals to vote through the Motor Vehicle Administration. 

Maryland does not require voters to present identification while voting in most cases. But Voters will be asked to show ID at the polls if they registered to vote by mail without meeting identification requirements, if someone challenges their identity, or if they are registering to vote or changing their address during early voting. Otherwise, ID is not required.

The state offers wide flexibility to voters beyond having to show up at their local polling place on Election Day. They can vote absentee without an excuse or in person during the state’s early voting period. They can also request to be put on the state’s permanent mail-in ballot list for all future elections.

As more voters are choosing to vote by mail since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the counting of mail-in ballots, legally required to happen two days after polling places close on Election Day, has held up the final certification of votes in Maryland. 

The Maryland State Board of Elections voted unanimously in August 2022 to file an emergency petition in court seeking to enact an earlier count of mail-in ballots for the midterm elections in November, and a judge ruled on Sept. 23 that local election workers can do so.

Previously, Hogan vetoed a bill that would have allowed the opening and counting of mail-in ballots eight days before Election Day, claiming it posed election security issues.

Cox, the Republican nominated to succeed him, is appealing the decision.

Black turnout and representation

Maryland has one of the highest shares of Black residents among U.S. states at about 31%. Baltimore, in turn, has one of the highest shares of Black residents in the state and for years has seen low voter turnout. 

That improved in 2020 after Baltimore pastors joined forces to encourage their parishioners to participate. They’re hoping for the same level of urgency for this year’s midterm elections. 

“These upcoming elections will be the most important in our history, as they all are,” the Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt, pastor of the Epworth Chapel United Methodist Church in Baltimore County, told the AFRO newspaper. “Votes have consequences –– they translate to improvements in our communities and resources. We need to encourage our citizens to vote by any means necessary and not be deterred by the spirit of apathy.”

Maryland’s once-a-decade U.S. congressional seat redistricting adopted by the Democratic-controlled legislature was thrown out by court action in March and declared “extreme partisan gerrymandering.”

“This is a huge win for democracy and for improving the process, and now we are going to have fair maps and fair elections in this election cycle,” Hogan declared as he signed a revised plan ordered by the court.

Felony disenfranchisement

Marylanders convicted of a felony who are no longer incarcerated can register to vote following the state legislature’s 2016 override of a Hogan veto. He’d sought to block the easing of Maryland’s previous policy of restoring voting rights only after offenders completed all aspects of their sentence, including parole and probation. Advocates and some formerly incarcerated people argued that amounted to taxation without representation. Now Maryland restores voting rights immediately upon an individual’s release from incarceration.

Last year, the state legislature changed Maryland law to require that the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services provide a voter registration application and paperwork to each individual upon release from incarceration, making it clear that their voting rights have been restored. 

Another piece of legislation specifically requires that a drop box for casting absentee ballots be provided to eligible voters incarcerated in Baltimore City’s centralized booking facility.

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Karen Juanita Carrillo is a Brooklyn, New York-based author and a frequent speaker on African American...