GERMANTOWN, Md. — Maryland elections workers started opening and counting mail-in ballots Thursday with a number of races still hanging in the balance, including the Democratic governor's primary.
But authorities in Montgomery County told WUSA9 it could be two to three weeks before all the mail-in counting is done in the state’s largest jurisdiction. More than 50% of voters requested mail-in ballots in Montgomery County, according to State Board of Elections figures -- statewide the number was nearly 45%.
Montgomery County State Senator Cheryl Kagan is calling the situation "a mess."
“Before the November election, we must fix this," Kagan said. "We cannot have something like this happening again in the fall election."
She is calling on the State Board of Elections to seek a court order to allow early mail-in ballot counting. According to Board of Elections Chairman William G. Voelp, the matter will be taken up at the Board's next meeting.
"I would advocate going to the courts if the data from the primary supports it," Voelp said. "But right now we don't have the data."
Kagan blames Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan for vetoing a bill that would have allowed more timely mail-in counting. She called the veto "irresponsible."
In a veto letter, Hogan said he supported early counting but the bill lacked “basic security measures such as signature verification.”
Kagan called the veto “pandering to the far right-wing." She also is calling on Hogan to issue an executive order to allow more timely counting during the general election.
"Senator Kagan can make all the demands and threatening phone calls she wants—the governor authorized early canvassing for the last election when we were in a state of emergency, and she couldn’t pass a simple bill to do it for this election," Hogan's spokesman Michael Ricci wrote in response. "We're deeply grateful to the people at our election boards for the work they do, and have absolutely no interest in using them as political pawns the way she so shamefully did today."
Processing the ballots is painstaking and time-consuming, compared to in-person voting. Opening ballots requires a Republican election worker paired with a Democratic worker to act as a team to check each other's work as they examine the ballots and envelopes for valid signatures and errors. The paper ballots are then stacked by the workers and sent to machines to be counted.
Kagan says the vetoed bill would have allowed the early processing of mail-in ballots eight days before the start of early voting.
As of Thursday, the Democratic primary for governor is still undecided, with Wes Moore leading over Tom Perez and Peter Franchot.
The Democratic primary for Montgomery County Executive between incumbent Marc Elrich and challenger David Blair is a toss-up with 1,200 votes separating the candidates.
County Board of Election’s Spokesman Gilberto Zelaya cautions that results will take more time.
"Right now our goal is between two to three weeks," Zelaya said.
Kagan says the delay gives elections integrity skeptics more opportunity to raise unfounded doubts and make false allegations that fraud or corruption is to blame.
“Maryland is the only state in the country that specifically prohibits the counting of mailing ballots until two days after the polls close," she said.
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