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Absentee voters could be key in upcoming general election

October 20, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

HAGERSTOWN - A new law that allows every Maryland registered voter to request an absentee ballot has led to a spike in applicants and could affect the outcome of the Washington County Board of Education race, the county's election director said Thursday.

"It's most likely that'll be decided by absentee vote. It'll be that close," Dorothy Kaetzel said.

The potentially thousands of absentee voters also could determine the outcome of the Washington County Commissioners race and the duel between John Donoghue and Paul Muldowney to be the state delegate from subdistrict 2C, Kaetzel said.

The state legislature in its last session passed measures that permit any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot. They previously were made available for people who were physically unable to vote or would be out of the county on Election Day, Kaetzel said.

The political parties sent out mailings with information about absentee voting, and voters have responded by requesting approximately 2,600 absentee ballots for the Nov. 7 general election. That's 500 more requested than the final figure for the 2002 gubernatorial race, and the county's 80,000 voters still have a week and a half to submit requests, Kaetzel said.

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"If they're mailing it, it has to be postmarked prior to Election Day," Kaetzel said. The ballots are already being returned, with 20 received by mid-morning Thursday, she said.

Election officials will start to count the absentee ballots on the Thursday following the election. Provisional ballots are started the Monday after that, and, on Nov. 17, overseas ballots will be counted.

Voters who request absentee ballots and arrive at one of the county's 50 polls on Election Day are flagged for provisional ballots. Those ballots also are made available to people who have moved or failed to produce identification when asked.

Three hundred provisional ballots were issued in the September primary election.

"There will be more than that in the general election," Kaetzel said.

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