Maryland's top legislative leaders said Tuesday they were not ready to agree to a recommendation by the state elections board to have all ballots for the June 2 primary cast by mail, a measure that was suggested to protect poll workers from the coronavirus.
Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones expressed their concerns about such a recommendation in a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan, who has the final say. The primary was originally scheduled for April 28, but Hogan postponed it until June 2 because of concerns about the virus.
Ferguson and Jones, who are both Democrats, wrote that in-person voting is as essential as allowing some business to continue to serve customers during Maryland's pandemic-driven state of emergency.
“The state must explore potential options for in-person voting opportunities for a limited number of our citizens to ensure that we are demonstrating that democracy can still flourish in the midst of a public health emergency,” wrote Ferguson, of Baltimore, and Jones, of Baltimore County.
In their letter, they cited concerns raised by the legislature about “significant research that shows minority voters are less likely to vote by mail, and that transient and low income populations are less likely to participate or even receive ballots.”
Michael Ricci, a spokesman for the Republican governor, wrote on Twitter that Hogan will review the letter, as well as the proposal from the state elections board.
“The governor is committed to conducting the primary election in a way that protects public health and preserves the integrity of the democratic process,” Ricci wrote.
Maryland will be choosing nominees for president and U.S. House seats in the June 2 primary.
Meanwhile, the state announced on Tuesday that it would be officially opening three drive-thru testing sites for residents who are symptomatic or at high risk of complications from COVID-19.
Starting Wednesday, the tests were going to be offered at three vehicle emissions testing sites in Anne Arundel, Charles and Harford counties, Hogan said in a news release. He said the state was not sufficiently equipped to expand the testing to those not experiencing symptoms.
The state health department reported three more virus-related deaths since the weekend, bringing the state's total to 18. Health officials have reported at least 1,660 confirmed cases of the virus, with 247 of those reported since Monday. The tests of nearly 15,000 people have come back negative and 53 patients have been released from isolation.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.