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Early voting on Md. ballot

October 18, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The slot machine referendum has generated a lot of debate across Maryland, but there is another constitutional amendment facing voters on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

Voters will be asked to decide whether early voting should be allowed in Maryland.

About 30 states allow some form of early voting, but a law that would have permitted it in Maryland was struck down as unconstitutional by the state's highest court in 2006.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation permitting voters to cast ballots up to two weeks before an election.

The amendment also would authorize legislation to be passed allowing voters to cast those ballots outside of their election districts.

Proponents of early voting say it expands access to people who can't make it to the polls, while opponents say it is unnecessary and increases the risk of voter fraud.

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Ryan O'Donnell, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, a government watchdog group that supports the amendment, said early voting would help people who don't have time to vote on Election Day.

"Anyone who is eligible to vote should be able to. Logistics shouldn't be a barrier," O'Donnell said.

But Del. Christopher B. Shank, who voted against a measure to put the early voting question on the ballot, said Maryland's absentee voting process gives people who can't get to the polls a chance to vote.

Shank, R-Washington, said allowing people to vote in any precinct in Maryland, a state that does not require voters to show photo ID, would increase the likelihood of voter fraud.

"I don't really see what the benefit is, but with the drawbacks in terms of the integrity of our elections, it's just not worth it," Shank said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who voted to place the early voting measure on the ballot, said while absentee ballots suffice in many cases, there are circumstances when early voting is needed.

He said he has received calls from people who were stuck in traffic outside the county and could not get back to their polling place in time to vote.

"At times like that, in unforeseen circumstances, if someone can jump off the interstate and prove who they are ... Those aren't the kind of people who are going to abuse the system," said Donoghue, who argued that the state has mechanisms in place to prevent voter fraud.

Washington County Election Director Dorothy Kaetzel said that accommodating voters in the weeks prior to Election Day or voters from other districts would not be difficult or costly.

"We can do it. I don't see anything wrong with it," Kaetzel said.

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