February 7, 2019
Whether through press stories, constituent suggestions, national conferences, my own experience, or the long hours of legislative hearings, I have discovered areas in our election law that need improvements. For this week’s update, I’m sharing a summary of the seven election bills I am sponsoring this year.
Enhancing Transparency at the State Board of Elections
As a result of legislation I sponsored two years ago, the State Board of Elections (SBE) started recording their meetings using an audio-only service. Unfortunately, listeners can’t easily identify who is speaking, and there’s a delay in posting the tape. At times, the sound quality is poor, rendering it nearly useless. It’s time to require the SBE to livestream its meetings and post videos and agendas online. The change would be easy, as other agencies are already providing this service. This will increase access to insights on election-related decisions and save travel time for those who must travel a great distance or live with disabilities.
Authorizing Montgomery County to Choose a New Voting System
Del. Eric Luedtke and I sponsored this bill last session, but there’s an increased groundswell of support this year as a result of the unmanageable number of candidates for County Council (33!) and County Executive (6!) in 2018. None of the winners in these elections received a majority of the vote.
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is an alternative method that allows voters to indicate their order of candidate preferences. If none receives a majority, then votes for the last place finisher are added to other candidates based on the voter’s selections. The process continues until a candidate reaches majority support.
In partnership with nonpartisan organizations including Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and FairVote, this bill would authorize our County Council and County Executive to implement either RCV or Approval Voting if they choose. The County House Delegation will vote on the bill tomorrow at its 9AM meeting.
Making Absentee Ballots Postage-Free
Marylanders who vote by mail are instructed to place postage on their ballots when they return it to the Board of Elections. Requiring voters to purchase a stamp in order to cast their ballot is the equivalent of a poll tax, outlawed by the 24th Amendment. Congressman Jamie Raskin sponsored this bill when he was in the State Senate. While it passed both the House and Senate, the drafting differences were not resolved before adjournment. I’m proud to try to finish his work on this issue.
Providing Absentee Ballot Drop-Off Boxes
Sometimes, circumstances or timing prevent voters from sending their absentee ballots through the mail. Under current law, poll workers are forbidden from accepting an absentee ballot in person. Counties should have a drop-off box where voters can securely submit their absentee ballots. Many states across the country, including California and Ohio, already offer this option.
Allowing Unaffiliated Voters to Vote in Party Primaries
Unregistered voters are allowed to go to an Early Voting site, choose a party, and cast a partisan primary ballot. Unlike never-registered voters, unaffiliated residents are not allowed to affiliate with a political party and cast a partisan ballot during Early Voting. My legislation would give them the same “Ballot Access” in party primaries.
Protecting Voter Registration Data
There are no guidelines as to how third parties handle voter registration data and what happens when there is a security breach. My bill would require the SBE to establish guidelines and to be notified promptly in the event of a violation so that immediate action can be taken. This is modeled on a new California law.
Closing a Loophole in Our Campaign Finance Laws
A recent Maryland Matters article revealed a gap in our campaign finance laws. A former Delegate died while his campaign account was still open. His treasurer was convicted of embezzling from the account. Maryland law allows funds to be returned to contributors or donated to party central committees or nonprofit organizations. There is, however, no regulation to specify what happens when a candidate dies. My bill would require timely closure and offer the same distribution options in the event of a candidate’s death.
I hope you will voice your support for this legislation on social media and stay engaged on these crucial issues. You can also follow me on Facebook , Twitter , and Instagram for photos and posts. Please check my website for information about internships, Senatorial Scholarships, and more. And, you can always send questions or comments to me via email.
Cheryl C. Kagan
State Senator, District 17
(Rockville & Gaithersburg)
P.S.: I am grateful to my allies on these issues for their dedication to reforming our elections. Common Cause, League of Women Voters, the ACLU, RCV for Maryland, FairVote, and Represent Women have worked countless hours on improving our campaign systems.