Legislation to allow voting by mail is withdrawn
Montgomery delegation to request that elections board, council discuss issue
The Montgomery County delegation in Annapolis has withdrawn legislation that would allow special elections in the county to be conducted by mail, but lawmakers say the issue likely will resurface next year.
And members of the County Council, which supported the measure, say they were unaware that the bill was withdrawn.
State Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville, who proposed the bill, said the idea had widespread support, including from the local Board of Elections.
Forehand said the legislation originally was introduced to increase voter participation and lower the cost of special elections. Under the legislation, all registered voters would be mailed a ballot.
However, she said lawmakers believed it was better to wait to introduce the bill again next year after the elections board had time to work on the details of a vote-by-mail election.
"We don't want to rush anything that's as important as this," said Del. Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac, chairman of Montgomery's delegation in the House. "We just didn't feel we had enough time to really adequately address all of the questions the bill raises."
The legislation was introduced as a late-file bill, he said.
Questions were raised over how such an election would function and what the cost savings would be, Feldman said.
The delegation is preparing a letter to send to the Board of Elections and the County Council, directing them to examine the legislation before the next session of the General Assembly.
Five special elections were held in Montgomery County between April 2008 and May 2009, costing taxpayers a combined $5.4 million. Voter turnout in those elections ranged from 6.8 percent to 11.5 percent far less than the 46.5 percent turnout in the 2010 general election.
Those special elections were made necessary after the deaths of two council members and the resignation of former U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn.
The Montgomery County Board of Elections has estimated that $1 million per election could be saved if ballots were cast by mail.
Forehand also sponsored legislation last year that would have allowed voters statewide to vote by mail in special elections, but that bill died in committee.
Councilwoman Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring, who was a candidate in two of the county's most recent special elections, said she is unsure why the vote-by-mail legislation was withdrawn.
"I thought that this would actually encourage people to vote," she said. "I just found that for me, going through it, it was definitely a challenge to not only get the message out, but also the voter turnout issue."
In states that conduct regular elections entirely through mail, voter participation appears to have increased.
In 2000, Oregon became the first state to conduct elections by mail, and 80 percent of voters participated. In 2008, more than 85 percent of voters cast ballots.
And in 2010, 54 percent of voters in Hawaii returned ballots via mail in a congressional special election.
Election costs also have been reduced by as much as half in states that have mailed balloting, election officials have said.
Staff Writer Alan Brody contributed to this report.