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Absentee ballot requests triple

January 20, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The number of Hancock voters who requested absentee ballots for this month's election has nearly tripled since the last town election, causing concern with Election Board Chairman Lowell Younker.

Younker said 76 people, or about 20 percent, have asked for absentee ballots for the Jan. 27 election. That's up from the 28 people who voted by absentee ballot in the January 2001 election.

As of Oct. 25, there were 1,018 Hancock residents registered to vote. Usually, about 2 percent or 3 percent of registered voters request absentee ballots, Younker said.

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Residents may request absentee ballots for specific purposes, such as being unable to leave the house or being out-of-town on the day of the election, officials said.

Younker said this week he has an idea of why the number is "way out of normal," but he couldn't disclose the information "without libeling myself." He would not elaborate.

The number of requests for absentee ballots prompted the Hancock Election Board to issue a newspaper announcement reminding citizens that falsifying absentee ballots is perjury and punishable by law, Younker said.

"If you are already in violation, you may destroy your absentee ballot at the town office now and vote at the polls Jan. 27, with no questions asked," the announcement in the Hancock News stated.

Lowell said as far as he knows the town has never prosecuted anyone for falsifying absentee ballots.

Councilman Darwin Mills said he thinks there's a simple explanation for the number of absentee requests increasing; he said there's a group of citizens going around town asking citizens to vote. Mills has also said he has gone door-to-door to meet residents and ask for support.

Mills disapproved of the newspaper announcement, saying it makes people who cannot vote at the poll afraid to cast absentee ballots. He said he has talked to town residents who told him they are afraid their ballots will not be counted as a result of the announcement.

The issue of absentee ballots caused some concern last week among Hancock officials and residents. Resident James True told council members he had obtained an "Oath of Absentee Voter" that contained a wrong date for the election.

Absentee voters are required to sign the oath and mail it back to the Election Board along with their ballot. The oath listed the date of the 2001 election.

True also said he obtained an envelope provided by the town to mail the oath and absentee ballot that was incorrectly addressed. The envelope was addressed to a Maryland State Police office in Glen Burnie, Md.

Town officials said they would meet to determine what happened and how many ballot packets were sent out with the wrong information. They assured residents that ballots sent out with incorrect information would be counted.

Younker said this week just one ballot was mailed with wrong information.

Hancock's election will be held from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the council's chambers at Hancock Town Hall, 126 West High St.

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