General Assembly Passes MACo Election Initiative

March 17, 2022

Conduit street (Maryland Association of Counties)

The Maryland General Assembly passed a MACo Legislative Initiative to clarify and update election laws emphasizing fairness, transparency, and accountability.

SB 158 / HB 35 – Election Law – Uniform Statewide Voting Systems – Cost Sharing, sponsored by Senator Cheryl Kagan and Delegate Julie Palakovich Carr, clarifies and codifies the 20-year precedent that governs the funding responsibility between the State and counties for voting machines and related systems.

Since 2001, Maryland has relied on uncodified language from one bill to govern the funding responsibility between the State and counties for election costs. However, the statutory language is vague, and SBE often makes arbitrary decisions that shift administrative and cost burdens onto local boards of elections, whose operations are supported by county funding.

These state-mandated expenditures represent significant unfunded mandates on county governments – competing for limited local funds against education, health, public safety, roadway maintenance, and other essential public services. By properly defining the equipment and systems subject to a 50/50 cost split, this bill delivers stability and predictability for state and local budgets.

From the MACo testimony:

An essential function of Maryland’s county governments is to fund and oversee elections, which is especially challenging amidst a public health crisis. Current law fails to recognize modern trends in voter preference, capabilities of new technologies, and realities of  administering elections in our local communities. Even once health concerns abate, the State’s odd, antiquated mix of laws and practices in governing elections deserves a much-needed reboot.

Building On Major Progress Over the Interim

The State Board of Elections (SBE) plans to replace its electronic pollbooks — which verify and check in voters at polling places across the state — in time for the 2022 election cycle. While the State is responsible for 50 percent of the costs for “acquiring and operating the statewide voting system,” SBE did not consider pollbooks as part of the statewide voting system and planned to invoice county governments for 100 percent of the costs to acquire the necessary equipment and software — close to $30 million over the next three years.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo sent a letter to the Board of Public Works asking the State to honor its longstanding split of funding responsibility for elections.

At a September meeting of the Board of Public Works, Secretary of Budget and Management David Brinkley pledged that a project to replace state-mandated electronic pollbooks and ancillary equipment would follow the same 50/50 state/county funding split as other comparable equipment since 2001.