OCEAN CITY – The Mayor and City Council debated this week adopting a “No-Excuse” policy regarding absentee and emergency ballots.
City Clerk Kelly Allmond explained that while researching ways in simplifying the absentee ballot process she came across the “No-Excuse” Absentee Voting Policy.
“The State of Maryland … in 2007 they adopted a no excuse policy for regular absentee ballots meaning they [voters] don’t have to provide that excuse,” Allmond said. “I don’t see any problem processing that … I would recommend an ordinance change incorporating that no excuse process.”
According to Allmond, Ocean City currently requires absentee voters to state, under oath, the circumstance which prevents their attendance to the polls on Election Day.
An absentee ballot request must be delivered to the Board of Supervisors of Elections by 5 p.m. on the seventh day proceeding Election Day. In return, an absentee voter will receive an absentee ballot to be returned to the city.
“This change … would not affect that scenario at all,” Councilwoman Mary Knight pointed out.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas reviewed the three options to vote, which are the polls, absentee ballots, and emergency ballots. Emergency ballots can be requested by those who come to find out they will not be able to make it to the polls during the seven-day window prior to Election Day and have not requested an absentee ballot.
“The question is should we also adopt the no excuse policy in that seven-day window,” Allmond said. “The State of Maryland still has an excuse policy in the emergency ballot process. I think the emergency process is a deterrent in my opinion. They are deterring the public for waiting until the last minute.”
City Solicitor Guy Ayres agreed with Allmond from a legal standpoint.
“It seems to me that it opens the door for everybody that waits until the last minute,” he said.
Councilman Doug Cymek was not comfortable moving forward until receiving more information from the state legislature.
“We have just spent a very short time this afternoon discussing this and obviously the state legislature discussed this at length, and has some reason for keeping the excuse on the emergency side of this,” he said. “There must be something that we are overlooking.”
Cymek and Knight agreed with approving the no excuse policy regarding absentee ballots but not emergency ballots.
“For this emergency, there has got to be a reason and for this council to all of a sudden want to change it worries me,” she said. “This is a very important. Voting is very important.”
Pillas said the issue is coming down to putting the Ocean City government through more work by providing an easier method for people to vote early.
“I am just trying to make it easier for the voters,” she said. “I know it becomes harder on the government and the politicians but my consideration is for them.”
Allmond said that the city clerk’s office has only received a few emergency ballot requests in the past.
“Well, you are going to get a whole lot more with this change,” Councilman Joe Hall said. “Our big argument about a voting change was we wanted more voter turnout, and this makes it easier.”
Though Council President Jim Hall asked the council members “to sleep on it”, it seems as though they had already come to a consensus of approving the no excuse policy regarding absentee ballots but were still divided adopting the measure for emergency ballots.
The council will return with further discussions once receiving information from the state regarding their reasoning on the matter.
“It is scary,” Allmond said. “You are messing with their constitutional right and to deny their vote would be … I wouldn’t be the one to do it.”