The other statewide referendum
Slots overshadow early voting
With the constitutional amendment to legalize slot machines dominating Maryland news coverage and commanding activists' attention, voters may have forgotten that the November ballot will include a second statewide referendum.
But the question of early voting in Maryland has taken a back seat to the fervor surrounding slots. There has been little — or perhaps zero — discussion about it since the General Assembly voted in 2007 to place it on the ballot. That came after the state's highest court upheld a lower court ruling that legislation to open polls a week before the election was unconstitutional.
The lack of exposure could swing either way.
"People are more inclined to vote against something if they're not sure about it," said John Kraus, spokesman for the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a Washington-based organization that tracks referendums nationwide. "The less they know about something or if they're confused about the issue, they're more inclined to take a more conservative approach and vote no."
Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton, who strongly opposed putting the issue on the ballot, fears that less attention will boost its chances of passage, because Democrats will be urged to vote yes.
"I think the fact that it's received no attention in a one-party state is definitely a negative because the majority of people will march out on Election Day, they'll look at their card and possibly not know what the issue entails and push the button," he said.
If approved, three designated polling places in each county would open up to 10 days before Election Day. Supporters argue that it will increase turnout and decrease long lines, while opponents argue that it invites fraud and is too costly. Republicans also allege that it is politically motivated to get more Democrats to vote in a state where they have a 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration.
"These two constitutional amendments taken together highlight the great harm that I believe the powers that be are potentially doing to our constitution," House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell said of both the slots and early voting ballot questions.
The Maryland Taxpayers Association on Wednesday asked state elections administrator Linda H. Lamone to provide voters with a fiscal impact statement that would outline the full cost implications of early voting, including paying election judges for 10 days and providing round-the-clock security for voting machines.
"When you talk about waste in government, why are you doing this duplicative thing when people can vote absentee anyway with no excuse," said Dee Hodges, the group's chairwoman.
O'Donnell said he expects there will be some focus on the early voting amendment before the election, but it's likely to be overshadowed by slots.
One proponent isn't convinced that less exposure will equal greater support.
"If people understand what this does, it's going to pass," said Del. Jon S. Cardin (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mills, who chairs the House Election Law Subcommittee. "If people are confused it might have problems. … I would argue that just because something is in the press a lot — for example, slots — doesn't mean people are going to be less confused by the ballot initiative."
An expert on early voting said voters are more informed when there are multiple referenda on the ballot. But because the slots measure has been so high-profile, virtually shutting out early voting, the impact is unknown, said Paul W. Gronke, director of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Portland, Ore.
In general, though, he said voters overwhelmingly favor making it more convenient to cast their ballot, and that's what early voting does.
"Convenience is a nice thing," said Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman (R-Dist. 9) of West Friendship, who worries the lack of a voter ID requirement will lead to fraud. "But [voters] don't realize what the unintended consequences are … and that's going to be hard to get out to them because there's going to be so much attention on slots."
Smigiel hopes the campaign to reject slots will spill over to the early voting referendum.
"I'm hoping that people look at the coverage of how misleading the attempts have been with regard to this constitutional amendment, and say let's vote against both of the referendum questions," he said. "When it comes to … the questions that are on the ballot this year, Just say no.'"