Martin O’Malley to propose expanding early voting in Maryland

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images - Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks to reporters on the North Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, February 25, 2011, following a meeting of Democratic governors with US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) plans on Friday to propose expanding early voting days in Maryland and, for the first time, allowing residents to register on the same day that they cast ballots — moves certain to rankle Republicans.

The legislation seeks to build upon an early voting plan in place in Maryland since 2010 that was vigorously fought for years by the state’s minority party, including O’Malley’s Republican predecessor, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

(GARY CAMERON/REUTERS) - Early voters line up outside a polling station in Silver Spring, Maryland October 27, 2012. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) plans to propose expanding early voting days in Maryland and for the first time allowing residents to register on the same day that they cast ballots.

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In November, many voters in Maryland’s largest jurisdictions stood in line for hours to cast their ballots early, and three times as many Democrats as Republicans took advantage of the opportunity, according to State Board of Elections statistics.

David Ferguson, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said that same-day registration would invite voter fraud and more broadly questioned the governor’s motivations.

“Anytime Governor O’Malley and Democrats start messing with election law, I’m suspicious,” Ferguson said, adding that he had not seen the plan.

O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said that the bill is simply “about providing more opportunities for citizens to register and vote.”

“This is not legislation that only allows Democrats to vote early,” she said. “It’s for everyone, regardless of party affiliation.”

Under O’Malley’s bill, a summary of which was obtained by The Washington Post, same-day registration would be limited to early voting periods. Casting a ballot on Election Day would continue to require advance registration.

A dozen states and the District have authorized same-day registration of some sort, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Of those, North Carolina and Ohio have plans in place similar to what O’Malley is proposing for Maryland: allowing same-day registration only on early voting days.

Steven Carbo, state advocacy director for Demos, a national group that seeks to expand voter participation, said fraud has not been much of an issue in same-day registration states that have adequate safeguards in place. Those include requiring voters to take an oath to confirm their identity, with stiff penalties for those who lie.

Although same-day registration has become more popular in recent years, a handful of states — including Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin — have allowed it since the 1970s.

Under O’Malley’s plan, early voting sites would be open for eight days before Election Day. That’s up from the six days that were authorized for November’s election. (Hurricane Sandy reduced the number to five.)

More early voting sites would be added, particularly in larger jurisdictions, and the sites would stay open longer each day during presidential election years.

Del. Kathy Afzali (R-Frederick) questioned the need for O’Malley’s plan.

“I think more early voting is very unnecessary,” said Afzali, who serves on an election law subcommittee in the House. “It will cost more money.”

Afzali acknowledged that there were long lines in some jurisdictions in November, but she said that was likely because of the unusually large number of ballot measures that appeared. In many cases, “low-information” voters spent long stretches in the polls reading the questions for the first time, she said.

She also questioned whether O’Malley was trying to pad what are already sizable Democratic majorities in the General Assembly.

“Everything the governor does is for partisan advantage,” Afzali said.

 
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