Governor’s bill increases early-voting days, eases registration
Some 65 bills related to election procedures and campaign finance were in the hopper this General Assembly session. They range from the fairly mundane — one bill has to do with the tenure of Circuit Court judges — to the more far-reaching and sure-to-be controversial. An example of the latter is a bill to alter the petition signature requirements to put issues on the election ballot.
A couple of the measures have been heard about or seen before. One, introduced by Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Dist. 25) of Mitchellville, would set up a 16-member task force to study the redistricting process. Another bill, from Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park and Del. Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac, calls for a constitutional amendment to address that 800-pound gorilla — transportation funding.
The legislation likely to take center stage, however, is an administration bill that proposes to increase the number of early-voting days — and the hours — in Maryland. More noteworthy, perhaps, the bill allows would-be voters to register on the same day they show up to vote. The latter provision would be limited to the early-voting days, which Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) wants to expand from the current six (although this year there were only five because of Superstorm Sandy) to eight leading up to Election Day.
For those who believe this is some sort of radical proposal, keep in mind that eight states plus the District of Columbia allow qualified residents to venture into the polls on Election Day, register and cast their ballots. Two other states have approved same-day registration but haven’t implemented it yet.
In one of those states, California, Gov. Jerry Brown concisely summed up the most compelling argument for easing voter registration: “Voting — the sacred right of every citizen — should be simple and convenient,” he said upon signing the legislation in September. He went on to say some states try to restrict voters with “new laws that burden the process.” That was a none-too-subtle jab at Republican-led voter ID efforts around the nation.
In Maryland, one such bill sponsored by House Republicans would, among other provisions, require an election judge to establish a resident’s identity by requiring the voter to present specified proof of identity. Voter ID supporters argue that they’re trying to cut down on fraud rather than discourage voting, as opponents claim. But, as the National Conference of State Legislatures notes in a roundup of states’ election policies, officials from same-day registration states report their procedures have not resulted in increased fraud. The biggest disadvantage, according to NCSL, is the cost of implementing same-day registration.
The fiscal note on the administration bill says the increased early-voting days and hours — which would go from the current 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, to 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in presidential election years — would cost the state about $150,000 in fiscal 2014. The bill, however, mandates local government participation, at a cost of about $1.2 million in fiscal 2014.
Still, for anyone who experienced the long lines around the state during early voting in November’s general election and who believes in the workings of a robust democracy, the price is a relatively small one.