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Friday, October 31, 2008

Vote "Yes" to Question #1 on MD Ballot

George Wenschhof

Two years ago, I explored a run for Maryland state senate in district 3. Prior to withdrawing from the race, I expressed my position on voting rights. While Maryland does not currently provide for early voting, today it is underway in 34 states with a estimated 200+ million voters eligible. By voting "Yes" to question # 1 on the ballot, you will amend the state constitution and allow the General Assembly to pass early voting provisions for the state of Maryland. The following was my position on this issue two years ago and remains so today:

On the Issue of Voting Rights

The right to vote is the cornerstone of American democracy.
Nothing is more basic to our democratic form of government
than making sure that every adult has full opportunity to exercise his or her right to vote,
and that those votes are counted fairly and accurately.

A new Federal law established provisional voting in the 2004 election. Under that law, a person whose identity or eligibility to vote is in question may vote on a ballot that is kept separate in a sealed envelope; the envelope is opened and the ballot counted only if the local Board of Elections looks into the facts and determines that the person is in fact entitled to vote.

The Maryland General Assembly passed the Voters Rights Protection Act of 2005 to improve the procedures related to provisional ballots. Governor Ehrlich vetoed this bill, citing concern over possible irregularities if voters were allowed to cast provisional ballots outside their home precinct.

Yet in the 2004 election at least five states, including Pennsylvania, allowed voters to cast provisional ballots outside their home precinct, without irregularities. I believe that Maryland election officials are at least as capable of determining a voter's eligibility as those in Pennsylvania. The governor's concern is unwarranted. If the ballot is cast in a different district, the votes are counted only for races in the jurisdiction where the voter resides.

The Maryland General Assembly also passed legislation to establish early voting during the week before Election Day, and to remove the requirement that a voter state a reason in order to vote by absentee ballot. The governor's veto messages on these bills expressed concern about possible implementation problems or irregularities. But in fact both are becoming standard practice in other states.

Twenty-three states have some form of early voting before Election Day, and thirty states do not require voters to state a reason to vote by absentee ballot (sixteen of those states do not require the absentee ballot to be witnessed or notarized). The State Board of Elections' new statewide online voter database can be used to make absolutely certain that no person votes more than once.

One issue remaining for the Maryland General Assembly to address this year is the need to add a paper trail to electronic voting machines so voters can be certain that hackers cannot commit election fraud by tampering with the voting machines.

Too often we take the right to vote for granted. It is the mainstay of our democratic form of government. We must be vigilant in protecting our voting rights and in updating our laws so that every person who is eligible has an opportunity to vote.


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