Maryland municipal leaders, citing the sanctity of their home rule charters, are unhappy with a new state report that found certain local election laws to be "a confusing and burdensome impediment" for voters in some towns and cities.
The report, released by Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs' office last week, said that the practice of dual registration, under which separately incorporated municipalities maintain their own voter rolls and conduct their own elections apart from the state's, is redundant and possibly discriminatory.
The report recommended that the dual system be abolished.
"It is unfair or unnecessary to all voters," said Assistant Attorney General Jack Schwartz.
State Del. Albert Wynn (D-Prince George's) said that prior to the legislature's convening, he has already filed a bill that would outlaw dual registrations. Wynn sponsored the same bill last year, but it died in committee, despite Sachs' backing.
"In this modern time, people are very busy; they don't have the time to duplicate their effort when they can register once and get it over with," Wynn said. "I haven't heard any cogent arguments" against one-time registration, he added.
But Maryland Municipal League Executive Director Jon Burrell and municipal elections officials, who vigorously opposed Wynn's measure last year, have their arguments.
"The bigger concern is still the issue of municipal autonomy," Burrell said. "You take away their elections, their registration process . . . the feeling in some of these towns is that you would take away a sense of community, a sense of identity by having it run by a state office."
In Rockville, which is the largest incorporated municipality in Montgomery County and the second largest in the state with a population of 48,000, town and state elections officials estimate 7,500 persons are registered to vote in city elections, compared with 22,000 city residents who are registered on state rolls.
State elections administrator Marie Gerber said that the difference between such county and state numbers can be considered discriminatory only if a disproportionate number of minority voters are disenfranchised by dual registration.
But Robert Antonetti, Prince George's County's elections administrator and president of the Maryland Association of Elections Officers, said discrimination does occur, even if not strictly racial.
"Some elected officials come out and say, 'We don't want everybody to vote because people who don't participate in our community . . . don't deserve to vote,' " he said. "That argument is very biased toward keeping participation limited."
Sometimes the dual process creates other problems, as it did last month in the Prince George's town of Glen Arden. Officials were forced to hold another election after they discovered that former state senator Tommie Broadwater, who cannot vote while on probation for a fraud conviction, cast a ballot in the May 6 town elections. Glen Arden uses county voter records, which had removed Broadwater's name, as well as their own, which still listed Broadwater as an eligible voter.
The municipal league's legislative committee will meet next month to consider alternatives to Sachs' proposal, among them suggestions that would mandate minimum hours for voter registration and sufficient public notice of registration and election dates.