A plan by Frederick County Board of Commissioners President Blaine R. Young (R) to require Frederick County voters to show identification when they go to the polls has drawn criticism from civil liberties groups, who say it would address a problem that doesn’t exist.
Young said he plans to propose a voter identification bill at the commissioners’ meeting today as part of the county’s legislative package of bills to be considered in the next session of the General Assembly that begins in January.
The proposal would act as a pilot program and would not be a statewide bill, Young said. He said he’s open to suggestions on how the measure could be drafted.
People have to show identification before they buy alcohol or cigarettes, and they should have to do it as well to vote, Young said.
He said that while voters posing as someone else is not a widespread problem, but pointed to the example of Wendy Rosen, a Democratic candidate in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District who dropped out in September after the state Democratic Party said she voted in both Maryland and Florida in 2006 and in the 2008 presidential primaries.
Young said voter fraud will only get more prevalent if it’s not addressed.
“What’s wrong with being proactive?” he asked.
But David Rocah, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, called the proposal, “a blatantly unconstitutional suggestion and a solution in search of a problem.”
Rocah said there’s been no evidence of voter fraud in Maryland, and Young’s proposal would disenfranchise voters who couldn’t provide the proper forms of identification.
“The effect of disenfranchising people who lack proper identification denies equal protection,” under the U.S. Constitution, he said.
Young said he expected such a reaction, which he said shows that opponents of voter identification laws aren’t interested in finding common ground on the issue.
Voter registration and Social Security cards are available for free, he said.
David Paulson, a spokesman for Attorney General Doug Gansler (D), said making the rule for only Frederick County could be problematic.
“Previous legal advice on this issue has stated that Maryland has a well-established body of law that governs elections statewide and changing elections law for any particular county is not within the expressed powers of chartered county government,” Paulson wrote in an email Tuesday.
A pilot program would need support from the legislature and governor to accommodate it, Young said.
Maryland has no voter identification requirement, but about 20 states have passed laws since the 2008 presidential election requiring voters to show identification, according to the Associated Press.
A Pennsylvania judge recently blocked a law in that state that would have required voters to show photo identification when they go to the polls, expressing concern over the state’s problems producing a form of identification that could easily be obtained by voters before the Nov. 6 presidential election.
Several laws, including ones in Texas and Wisconsin, have been upheld in court.
Young’s proposal wouldn’t require a photo identification.
He said he’d be open to allowing people to use the voter identification cards they’re given when they register, as well as a social security card, birth certificate or any valid state-issued identification, several of which can be obtained at no charge.
He’d also consider allowing tax, water or electric bills as proof of identity, he said.
Young said if someone comes to the polls and can’t provide an accepted form of identification, they can cast a provisional ballot that would be counted if the person could confirm their identity within a specified time frame.
That way, everyone who comes to the polls can cast a vote, with the provisional ballots counted once a voter’s identity is confirmed.
“If they had to prove who they are in other facets of their life, they could do it,” Young said.
State Sen. David R. Brinkley (R-Dist. 4) of New Market said he thinks voter identification should be required everywhere.
“I don’t see why people are afraid of it if they’re legitimately registered to vote,” he said.
Similar bills have been introduced many times in the past, and have always been greeted hostilely by Senate committees that consider them, Brinkley said.
Guy Djoken, president of the Frederick County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the proposal political grandstanding by Young, who’s seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2014.
Rather than grandstanding, Young said he’s making people go on the record of where they stand on the issue.
Critics of voter identification laws often claim they have a disproportionate impact on minorities, and Djoken said while the impact on Frederick’s minority community would likely be minimal, the measure would send the wrong message.
Frederick County hasn’t had a problem with voter fraud, and there are many other issues that lawmakers could be addressing, he said.
“I would like him to tell me why that’s a problem here,” Djoken said.
Rocah of the ACLU said the measure would be bad judgement and bad policy.
“Frederick County doesn’t get to make up its own rules for voting,” he said.