WASHINGTON – Maryland was one of 12 states to improve on a national report card evaluating election policies, going from a grade of D to a B for its progress on election reform in the year since the troubled presidential election.
A lobbyist for Common Cause, which released the report this week, said Maryland made “pretty significant” progress and that the only reason the state did not get an A was because it permanently bars twice-convicted felons from voting.
“Of all the states, Maryland was the second-most improved,” said Michael Madison, the lobbyist.
The report, “Not Making the Grade,” said that 37 states made no progress on election reform and one state, Arkansas, slipped a grade by making it more difficult for felons to regain voting rights.
The report measured four criteria. Maryland already met one criterion, a computerized statewide registration system, which was introduced before last year’s presidential election. It is now in use by most counties and is expected to prevent registration mishaps and reduces duplicate registration once implemented statewide.
Since the election, the state met two other criteria: It mandated uniform voting equipment statewide by 2006 and established provisional balloting.
Under provisional balloting, residents can vote even if their names do not appear on voting rolls. The provisional ballots are counted after the election, once their eligibility is established, a move designed to keep people from being turned away at the polls because of registration errors, as happened last year with motor-voter registrations.
The state failed on the fourth criterion, making it one of only two states that permanently disenfranchises residents on their second felony conviction. Eight other states disenfranchise felons after their first conviction.
A proposal by Delegate Kerry Hill, D-Prince George’s, to repeal that felon-voting ban was defeated by the legislature earlier this year, but a task force took up the issue over the summer and Hill has vowed to try again in 2002.
State Elections Administrator Linda Lamone said through a spokeswoman Wednesday that she questions the value of the report due to its inaccuracies, but she would not identify those inaccuracies or comment further on the report.
Common Cause spokesman Jeff Cronin said the point of the study was not to criticize but to make a case for action so that last November’s electoral chaos in Florida does not happen anywhere else. He said his organization was dismayed by the inaction of most states in response to the Florida fiasco.
“You would never know we had an election crisis by looking at the progress in the states,” he said. “Many states haven’t made as much progress as Maryland.”
But Maryland is not in the clear. Cronin said that permanent disenfranchisement of twice-convicted felons is an issue of fundamental civil rights, as well as an issue of election reform.
“Voting rights shouldn’t be summarily denied to those who have had all of their other rights restored after they have completed their sentence,” he said.