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Md. could become second early-voting jurisdiction in Tri-State

November 08, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- A ballot measure approved Tuesday puts Maryland on track to join 31 states, including West Virginia, with early voting.

Pennsylvania doesn't have early voting, but has considered it, Leah Harris, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania's Department of State, said in a voice-mail message.

Maryland's measure will let people vote up to two weeks before an election, anywhere in the state. Votes will be secured until the election.

About 72 percent of the votes were in favor of the constitutional amendment, which allows the Maryland General Assembly to pass an early-voting law.

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The legislature isn't required to take action, but the approval of the amendment likely will be considered a public mandate.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, whose House Ways and Means Committee probably will consider an early-voting bill before the full legislature does, said he opposes the idea. He said the state has enough concerns about its current election system without adding new logistical burdens.

Proponents argue that early voting will accommodate people who can't get to a polling place during Election Day.

"Early voting and voting by absentee ballot without having to give a reason will allow persons who, due to work hours, long commutes or other reasons, are unable to vote during the time allotted on Election Day," Monda Sagalkin, the director of the League of Women Voters of Washington County, wrote in a letter to the editor in support of early voting.

Critics say it could invite fraud and isn't needed because Maryland already allows absentee ballots.

Two years ago, the state's Court of Appeals struck down as unconstitutional Maryland's plan to have five-day early-voting periods before the primary and general elections. The new measure changes the state constitution.

West Virginia has had early voting since 2002.

This year, about 154,000 West Virginians voted before Election Day. That's about 13 percent of those who were registered and about 22 percent of those who voted, said Sarah Bailey, a spokeswoman for the state Secretary of State's office.

Locally, there were 11,097 early voters in Berkeley County in the recent election, 6,913 in Jefferson County and 1,070 in Morgan County.

Bailey said adding two more weeks to the voting period relieves some of the rush and burden on election workers.

Maryland's proposed early-voting also would last two weeks, but would differ in other ways.

Each West Virginia county has one early-voting polling place -- the county courthouse -- while Maryland's constitutional amendment lets early voters cast ballots anywhere in the state.

A Pennsylvania elections task force has talked about ways to make voting easier, such as early voting, Harris said in a phone message.

Gov. Ed Rendell supports early voting, she said.

Jean Byers, the deputy chief clerk of the Franklin County Election Board, said absentee ballots are allowed for people who can't get to their precinct on Election Day, such as a commitment for their job or college, or if they have a physical limitation.

"We don't normally reject them," she said.

Regular absentee ballots are accepted until a week before an election.

For the subsequent three days, people need a notarized statement to request an emergency absentee ballot.

After that, it takes a court order to get an absentee ballot, Byers said.

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