ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — A panel of agency leaders and state organizations is continuing to call on Gov. Larry Hogan to implement mail-in ballots instead of in-person polling places for the general election in November.

The push comes as more polling places in the state opt out of hosting voters due in part to a lack of staff.

The Maryland Association of Election Officials held a teleconference Wednesday, during which they urged Gov. Hogan to backtrack on a plan that would keep all polling places open.

“The more people who can vote by mail-in (ballot), you reduce all those different risks. The virus is hoping a lot of people show up to vote, particularly in our cramped locations standing around next to each other,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, of John Hopkins School of Public Health, said.

The group said it would be most feasible to pull off a statewide mail-in ballot election if the decision to do so was made by August 1. If a decision is made after that, it could still be done but would present more challenges.

Of Maryland’s 1,650 polling places, 123 have already opted out of operation on Election Day. Many chief judges are not willing to participate in interacting with the public.

“I consider serving in the polling place to be my patriotic duty and I love doing it, but I will not volunteer for an unnecessary suicide mission,” Rebecca Wilson, a Chief Election Judge, said.

Recruiting election judges is already a difficult task, David Garreis, of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, said.

“In the midst of the public health crisis, it’s going to be very difficult if not impossible to make up the polling judge shortfall,” Garreis said.

Sending out ballots to every registered voter in the state is estimated to cost around $5.5 million, less than it would cost to send out absentee ballot applications to all voters and then ballots to those who want them as Hogan has proposed.

“Not only is it extra steps and it’s going to increase delays in and increase problems, it’s more than twice as much money,” Amy Cruice, of the ACLU of Maryland, said.

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The state’s elections board has already requested a $20 million budget amendment to cover the additional costs. Hogan said while state officials should make every effort possible to encourage absentee and early voting, some form of in-person voting is needed after the issues some voters saw in the June primary election.

Those taking part in Wednesday’s teleconference said planning for the election isn’t a partisan issue but rather a public health concern, adding leaders need to look out for those who can’t easily get to polling places, don’t want to risk their health or have disabilities that could prove a hindrance to voting with fewer polling place staff.

“The governor must now act to protect Marylanders and to protect democracy. This is (a) moral moment in Maryland,” Reverend Kobi Little said.

Gov. Hogan addressed the general election at a press conference Wednesday in Annapolis.

He said that it’s officials jobs to be at the polls on election day.

“I understand it’s difficult to get people to man the polls, but that’s their only job, and it’s their responsibility,” Gov. Hogan said. “And the law says every two years they have to do that.”

For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

Rachael Cardin

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