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Opinion Now is the right time for the Safe and Accessible Registration Act in Maryland

Voting booths in Mechanicsville in April 2016. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

As Americans, our right to vote is a responsibility and a privilege — and the security and fairness of our election system is important to all of us. Reports that foreign hackers targeted voter rolls in Maryland and 20 other states and that our Facebook data was used to influence elections should be a warning for federal and state leaders.

It’s clear President Trump won’t do a thing to address gaping holes in voter protections from his perch in the White House. Instead of taking action to shore up protections for voters in the United States after news of Russian interference surfaced, he created a commission on election integrity to legitimize his claims of voter fraud in the 2016 elections. The commission — like many efforts his administration undertakes — ultimately failed under a thick cloud of controversy and infighting. In the absence of real leadership on the issue, states have no choice but to step in and protect our democracy.

Our governments have an obligation to protect our voting rights by any means necessary — that includes opening up alternative options for Marylanders to register to vote. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has the opportunity to secure Maryland elections and separate himself from Trump’s failure to act by signing the Safe and Accessible Registration Act (SARA) into law.

Passed by overwhelming majorities in the General Assembly, SARA would allow eligible adults to register to vote or update their voter information whenever they interact with a state agency. With one click, their information would be encrypted and sent to the Board of Elections, where it would be verified. New voters would be added to the rolls, and existing voter registrations would be updated with the new information.

Over the past decade, our state has invested in upgrading technology within its agencies, making it easier to share information, so Maryland is prepared to implement an automated registration process. Automatic Voter Registration technology is far more secure than traditional paper registration, and, over time, it saves state employees time and saves taxpayers money. Plus, the savings from auto-registering Marylanders will free up even more resources to invest in other critically important election-security measures.

Maryland has a long and storied history of leading the way on voting rights issues. We were among the first states to implement early voting in 2010. Takoma Park was the first municipality in the United States to lower the voting age to 16 in 2013, with Hyattsville and Greenbelt following in the years following.

In the last primary election, more than 50,000 Marylanders were required to vote on provisional (paper) ballots because their addresses were not updated on the voter registration rolls. Not only did this process slow down poll-workers, contributing to lengthy voting lines, but it was also frustrating and left many voters feeling left out — in fact, 1 of 3 paper ballots in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County were thrown out. This happens more frequently to young people and those with lower incomes who tend to move frequently. Automatic voter registration (coupled with Election Day registration) helps to ensure that everyone who is eligible can have their voice heard in our elections.

With 2018 elections right around the corner, we cannot to wait for the federal government to protect our elections. We need to tell Hogan that now is the time for Maryland to join with more than 10 other states and the District of Columbia and enact automated voter registration. Hogan missed the boat on restoring the voting rights of 40,000 Marylanders two years ago. He has an opportunity to right that wrong this year by signing Safe and Accessible Registration Act into law without delay.

Charly Carter is executive director of Maryland Working Families.