Their spat follows Hogan’s announcement last month that Maryland would hold a “normal” election on Nov. 3, despite the pandemic. The governor has said his strategy, which includes opening all polling sites while mailing applications for ballots to each voter, is intended to thin Election Day lines while ensuring widespread access.
But there has been a revolt in Maryland among election judges, with thousands saying they will not serve this year because of concerns about the novel coronavirus. Hundreds of private facilities have declined to serve as polling sites.
The state Board of Elections on Friday decided to seek Hogan’s permission to curtail the number of in-person voting sites. They unanimously proposed creating 282 large “voting centers” that would replace more than 1,800 precincts statewide.
Voting centers would be at every public high school, along with other locations, and voters could cast ballots at any precinct in their county.
At the county level, one of the most vocal critics of Hogan’s plan is Alsobrooks (D), whose jurisdiction is the second-largest in Maryland and leads the state in coronavirus infections.
Alsobrooks, whose supporters want her to run for governor in 2022, proposed an Election Day plan of her own in a letter to Hogan on July 30. She advocated for every voter to be mailed a ballot — not an application, as in Hogan’s plan — and for 15 polling sites in Prince George’s to be opened, rather than the 244 that are typically available. She also proposed extending the early voting timeline and installing secure drop-off ballot boxes at all approved polling locations.
“It is extremely unsafe to ask seniors to go into these facilities and ask them to conduct an in-person election,” Alsobrooks said at a news conference.
Twenty-two facilities that regularly serve as polling sites in the county have declined to host voters, and there are more than 1,200 election judge vacancies, local election board president John Rowe wrote in a separate letter to Hogan. Should the vacancies persist, he added, “the election could be compromised.”
Rowe also noted, though, that the local board was “diligently working” to comply with Hogan’s directives and had not adopted Alsobrooks’s proposal for just 15 voting sites.
Hogan has pushed back against criticism of his plan. In a letter rebuking state board elections chair Linda Lamone, he also criticized Alsobrooks, referring to the 1965 Voting Rights Act and saying that the plan outlined by the Prince George’s leader would result in voter suppression, or, at the very least, accusations of voter suppression.
The governor quoted former president Barack Obama’s eulogy for civil rights icon John Lewis, seeming to associate Alsobrooks with “those in power who are doing their darndest to discourage people from voting by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws.”
For Alsobrooks, a lifelong Prince George’s resident who often speaks about the legacy of racism African American residents had to overcome to make the suburb an enclave of Black wealth, that language went too far.
“The governor, whose administration’s silence has been deafening throughout the social justice movement taking place across the nation, now attempts to educate me about the painful history of voting as a Black American, accuses Prince George’s of seeking to prevent minorities from voting, referred to Congressman John Lewis, quoted President Barack Obama and invoked the Voting Rights Act,” she wrote in a statement Wednesday.
“The fact that the governor, who is well aware that Prince George’s County has experienced the greatest amount of covid-19 illness and death in the state, mocked our concern regarding a safe and responsible voting process for our citizens, demonstrates his high disregard for the health and wellbeing of the people in my county.”
Hogan has said he does not want to repeat the problems that marred the June primary, in which long lines formed outside the few polling places that were open, and mail-in ballots were sent directly to voters, but some received them late, not at all, or in the wrong language.
But Alsobrooks pointed out that despite those issues, turnout in Prince George’s for the primary was the highest it has been since 2008.
There were 521,877 ballots mailed to residents in the election, of which 231,711 were returned; and 8,880 people voted in person, at early voting centers or at one of the four in-person polling sites open on Election Day.
That means 46 percent of registered voters cast ballots, compared with 27 percent in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, 37 percent in the 2016 primary and 15 percent in 2012.
“I have but one agenda, and that is to protect the health, lives and rights of Prince Georgians,” Alsobrooks wrote. “In this very important and historic moment, we are trying to accomplish two things, which are both possible: to make it possible for the citizens of my county to vote, and to vote without unnecessarily risking lives.”
Erin Cox contributed to this report.