ANNAPOLIS – Civic and civil liberties groups asked the General Assembly on Wednesday to override vetoes of election law bills which they said would make voting easier, but which Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed in May because he feared they would contribute to Maryland’s “rich history of voter fraud.”
David Rocah, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland described the vetoed elections laws to a legislative committee as “one of the most important bills I’ve ever come to Annapolis to talk about.”
He was joined by representatives from the Maryland League of Women Voters in support of overriding Ehrlich’s veto of the Voters Rights Protection Act of 2005. The bill would have made it illegal to deter voters from going to the polls and would have changed the rules for provisional ballots, which are cast if a voter goes to the wrong polling place.
In his May 20 veto message, Ehrlich wrote that the bill “expands the opportunity for individuals to abuse and negatively influence election outcomes.”
But Rocah said, “There’s not a shred of evidence to support” the governor’s concern about expanded abuse.
The bill would protect voting rights by making “the use of fraud or misleading statements to discourage” illegal, Rocah said. “Dirty tricks campaigns are really pernicious and ought to be illegal.”
Carol Connors of the Maryland League of Women Voters said this part of the bill was most important. “Let’s get this section at least enacted by whatever means possible and soon,” she said.
“We want everyone who’s eligible to vote and wants to vote to have his vote counted,” Connors said.
The vetoed Early Voting bill would have increased the time voters could go to the polls by having polling places open the Tuesday through Saturday before Election Day.
The polls would be open eight hours each day, which Linda Lamone, administrator for the State Board of Elections, said would allow the board to “be creative in meeting the demands of working voters.”
Ehrlich wrote in May that he vetoed the bill because “Maryland has a national reputation as a state with a rich history of voter fraud.” No one from the administration appeared at Wednesday’s briefing to defend Ehrlich’s vetoes.
If the vetoes are overridden, the state’s seven most populous counties would be required to have at least three polling places open for early voting, and the rest would only have to open one, Lamone said.
Meanwhile, when members of the public were given a chance to comment, they talked exclusively about so-called “paper-trial verification” of electronic voting.
Representatives from TrueVoteMD, a citizen group that opposes the current electronic voting system, said they thought that during the last election there were widespread problems with electronic voting.
Lamone said the election board is working on a study with the University of Maryland about the need for independent verification of votes. She told the committee that the study would be complete in mid-January.
Lu Pierson, president of the Maryland League of Women Voters, also mentioned the paper trail issue. She said the league wants voting to be “secure, accessible, recountable and accurate.”
Pierson said the current system does not allow for recounts. “We support paper trails as one method to provide verification.” Committee Chairwoman Sheila Hixson said paper trail legislation is being drafted. -30–11