WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, April 24, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed House Bill 535 (and its companion Senate Bill 379) into law, creating a cure process for mail-in ballots and requiring election officials to pre-process mail-in ballots before Election Day. The law tackles two issues that have arisen in Maryland in recent years, making mail-in voting a smoother process for both voters and election administrators in the Old Line State. The law passed on party line votes in both chambers, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against, and will take effect on Oct. 1, 2023.
In 38 states, election officials can pre-process mail-in ballots before the election; nine states and Washington, D.C. permit election officials to pre-process ballots on Election Day, prior to the closing of polls. Previously, Maryland remained the only state that prohibited the processing of mail-in ballots until 8 a.m. on the Wednesday following Election Day. “Processing” typically means removing mail-in ballots from outer envelopes, verifying signatures and preparing them for counting.
Under H.B. 535, officials will now be required to process mail-in ballots eight business days before the first day of early voting. Local officials can waive this requirement if they face an exceptionally low volume of ballots or another constraint. Election officials note that pre-processing will not only lessen the burden on election workers, it will help prevent bad actors from exploiting the delayed release of mail-in voting results to sow doubts in elections.
The new law also comes after litigation over the issue ahead of the 2022 midterm elections when state courts granted a request from the Maryland State Board of Elections to begin processing mail-in ballots on an earlier schedule. The Republican gubernatorial candidate, Dan Cox, intervened in the lawsuit to prevent this rule change, but was unsuccessful. Cox later invoked the radical independent state legislature theory in a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Maryland courts usurped the Legislature’s power when they allowed officials to begin counting mail-in ballots earlier than state law permitted; this cert petition was denied in February.
H.B. 535 also enacts a cure process for voters to correct mistakes on their mail-in ballots to ensure they are counted. The law requires the State Board of Elections to create guidelines for local officials to notify a voter of their failure to sign a mail-in ballot properly “as soon as practicable but not later than 3 business days after” the mistake was noticed. The local officials must then “provide the voter an opportunity to correct the omission and have the ballot counted.” Voters will be able to send a digital picture of their signature, among other communication methods.