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League of Women Voters mulls ways to get out vote

September 20, 2000

League of Women Voters mulls ways to get out vote



By DON WORTHINGTON / Staff Writer


Should Maryland residents be allowed to register to vote and cast their ballots the same day?

Should Maryland go to an election system under which all votes are cast by mail?

Should Maryland allow voters to cast ballots early, days or even weeks before a scheduled election day?

The League of Women Voters of Maryland is studying those and other ideas in an attempt to increase voter participation.

In 1998 elections, only 36.4 of the U.S. voting-age population cast its ballot. For Maryland the 1998 figure was 39.4 percent.

In discussing such changes, league members have found Maryland voters concerned about ballot fraud.

"For some reason, Marylanders are afraid about the security of their ballot. Fraud is a big issue," said Lu Pierson, who chaired the league's voter participation study committee.

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"It is a bigger issue in Maryland than other places and it is not based on anything but perceptions," added Pierson, who served on the State Board of Elections for five years and before that worked the polls in her home of Baltimore.

Pierson was in Hagerstown Wednesday evening to discuss with the League of Women Voters-Washington County Unit eight ideas that could increase voter participation.

The ideas were same-day registration/same-day voting; shortening the deadline to register to vote (Maryland's voter rolls now close 25 days before an election); provisional ballots to allow those not listed on poll books to vote; all mail voting; early voting; permanent absentee voting; a study of Internet voting; and voter information pamphlets.

The state committee developed its ideas after studying election practices across the country.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he could support same-day registration/same-day voting as a citizen, but not as a politician.

He said with issues such as a proposed cruising ordinance, if there were same-day registration/same-day voting those opposed to the ordinance could flock to the polls "and chances are I'd be replaced in a heartbeat."

But as a citizen, Bruchey said, there are often burning issues that arise late in a campaign and if you're not registered, you can't vote.

Pierson said one advantage of all-mail voting or having polls open for weeks before an election is it affects the way politicians campaign.

"You can't wait to drop the bomb until two days before the election," she said.

Each of the league's 24 units is being asked for its opinions on the ideas.

Members of the Washington County unit favored shortening the registration deadline to a week before an election; were largely opposed to same-day registration/same-day voting and all mail voting; and supported provisional ballots and permanent absentee voting. They did not reach a consensus on early voting.

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