Update on 2021 Election Law Legislation
By Jim Shalleck
President of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.
The Maryland General Assembly adjourned on Monday, April 12, 2021, enacting a number of laws which continue and expand on the voters’ preferences from this past Presidential election.
House Bill 745 increases the number of early voting sites throughout the State. Allocation of these sites was primarily based on population. In Montgomery County, the number of early voting sites will increase from 11 to 13, with an option for a 14th site.
House Bill 206 extends the hours of early voting from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM (Presidential Election hours were 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM). Early voting hours will be the same as Election Day.
Ballot Drop Boxes are now mandated throughout the State. Senate Bill 683 requires local election boards to designate drop box locations following certain guidelines and factors relating to accessibility to historically disenfranchised communities, voters with disabilities, cultural, ethnic and minority groups, proximity to dense concentrations of voters, accessibility to public transportation, equitable distribution throughout the county, and maximizing voter participation by placement of ballot drop boxes at community centers and public gathering places. The State Administrator of Elections will review and approve these ballot drop box locations. The Bill requires monitoring of drop boxes by security cameras at all times and removal of ballots from each drop box at least once each day. No electioneering or posting any campaign material in a manner that obstructs access to a ballot drop box is allowed.
It was clear from the legislation passed that the legislature was intent on expanding voter access to early voting and voting by mail. Both methods were very popular with voters this past election.
Senate Bill 683 also requires the State Board of Elections to provide an option on the absentee ballot application for voters to request permanent absentee status. Permanent absentee voters will continue to receive a ballot for each election using their preferred method until:
- The voter requests to be removed from the list;
- The voter fails to return an absentee ballot for two consecutive statewide general elections;
- Mail that was sent to the voter is returned undeliverable; or the voter is removed from the Statewide voter registration list.
Senate Bill 683 also requires each local board to send an absentee ballot application to each eligible voter at least 60 days prior to the statewide primary election in 2022 and the statewide primary election in 2024.
These Bills will be sent to the Governor for his veto or approval.
James Shalleck is the President of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.