Lawmakers mull implementing early voting

January 18, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER


Though the House of Delegates voted Tuesday to override Gov. Robert Ehrlich's veto of several election law changes, two local legislators say the vote might not be the end, particularly concerning a measure to allow early voting beginning this year.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, and Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said Tuesday that they had heard some groups already were talking about petitioning to take the early voting bill to referendum in September.

Both legislators had objected to the override, saying the state is not prepared to implement early voting this year without inviting the potential for voter fraud.


Myers, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee's subcommittee on election laws, took his argument to the House floor Tuesday in a vain attempt to stop the override.

"I support early voting," Myers told the delegates. "I think we would be doing our constituents a great service if we were to implement and allow early voting ... The problem is we are not ready, and I am opposed to doing the wrong thing at the wrong time."

Myers noted the state's touch-screen voting machines already had caused problems, and expressed doubt that an early voting procedure could be ready in time for this year's primary election.

"Do you realize between now and September we need to develop procedures, have those procedures reviewed and approved, inform and explain the new procedures to the local boards, identify the sites that are accessible and secure, recruit and train election judges?" New equipment would have to be purchased and new processes would have to be explained to the public, he added.

But Del. Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, argued that "literally, we will be ready. Everybody tells us that in fact we are ready for it."

Del. Gareth Murray, D-Montgomery, noted that in his district, voters had lined up around the block to vote in the last election and were delayed because of the eight voting machines in one precinct, only half were working. Some had to leave to catch buses to go to work, and consequently couldn't vote, he said.

"And you tell them 'we're not ready.' Get ready!" Murray said.

There should be only minor adjustments for Washington County's Board of Elections to comply with the bill, Election Director Dorothy Kaetzel said.

Kaetzel said holding early voting in the Board of Elections office, at 35 W. Washington St., Room 101, in Hagerstown, would be convenient. If early voting is held at another location, the board would have to hire poll workers and find a place where they could secure the voting machines overnight.

Kaetzel said she expects voting during the first year of early voting to be mostly unchanged. As more voters realize that early voting means avoiding lines and possible traffic on Election Day, they might choose early voting. More early voters could mean additional problems for the Election Board.

One problem Kaetzel fears is the possibility of double votes, the major concern of legislators opposed to implementing early voting this year. She does not believe people in Washington County would be able to vote twice, but said larger counties, such as Montgomery County, might have a problem.

Shank said Tuesday that if there is an effort to take the issue to referendum, he would encourage people to sign up. It would take the signatures of 100,000 registered Maryland voters to put the issue on the ballot.

"I would think anybody who is concerned about the integrity of the voting process would want to exercise their constitutional right and try to overrule the General Assembly," Shank said.

Only one Washington County delegate, Democrat John P. Donoghue, voted to override Ehrlich's veto of the early voting bill.

Staff writer Erin Cunningham contributed to this story.

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