ANNAPOLIS – Marylanders holding a state driver’s license or identification card could be called for jury duty next year under a bill passed Tuesday by the Maryland General Assembly.
The governor is expected to sign the bill, which especially benefits those in rural areas where registered voters are called to serve more frequently because of their limited number. Typically, registered voters are the only people summoned for service.
For example, Garrett County’s population as of July 1999 was 29,389 and the number of registered voters was 14,896 according to Census Bureau estimates and County Circuit Court.
Garrett County Circuit Court Jury Commissioner Ruth Warnick said that while repeat jurors aren’t a big problem “there’s always at least one, if not two or three, who have already served.”
Warnick said the legislation will “be more fair. People won’t be penalized for voting.” It also will be “a better cross-section, be a jury more of their peers.”
The bill passed the House of Delegates, 129-5, and Senate, 45-0.
Delegate Robert Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, said that while an expanded jury pool is one benefit of the legislation, he originally sponsored it to remove what some view as a hurdle to increasing voter registration.
The No. 1 reason people don’t register to vote, he said, is because they don’t want to serve jury duty.
“We here at the state should be doing as much as we can to get people involved in the political process,” Zirkin said. “We need to do what we can to rock the vote.”
Proponents of the bill say the addition of motor vehicle lists will fill jury boxes with a more representative cross-section of the population. It also will make the practice uniform throughout the state, Zirkin said.
At least six Maryland jurisdictions already use driver rolls to compile juror lists: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Dorchester, Howard, Somerset and Worcester, according to the Maryland Court Information Office.
But some, like Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, said he views those who don’t register to vote in order to avoid jury duty as shirking one civic responsibility to avoid another. O’Donnell said he voted against the bill because it would dilute jury quality by including people who don’t want to serve.
Delegate Kenneth Schisler, R-Talbot, who was initially unsure if he would support the bill, said he voted in favor because the argument that jury quality would be decreased did not outweigh the benefits.
“When people are called to jury service they take it seriously,” Schisler said. “Even if they come to it grudgingly, they do the job.”
Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s spokesman said the governor is expected to sign the bill. If so, it will go into effect next year.