ANNAPOLIS – The House of Delegates passed a bill Tuesday that would establish electronic poll books intended to prevent people from voting more than once, as well as mandate the creation of polling places on large college campuses for students and faculty.
The Voter Bill of Rights, as it is called, was approved 96-43, largely along party lines and despite objections from Republicans who said the measure afforded college students conveniences that are not available to members of the military.
“The reality is the voting demographics . . . on the college campuses are a little bit different than they are at military installations, and I think that’s why we did this,” Minority Whip Anthony J. O’Donnell, R – Calvert, said on the House floor. “That’s the wrong way to go with this legislation.”
House Democrats pointed out that a Department of Defense regulation prohibited the creation of polling places on military bases after the year 2000.
“Installation commanders should not allow the use of installation facilities as polling places for federal, state, or local elections,” the regulation, posted on the Department of Defense website, states.
Still, O’Donnell said that the legislation should require polling places to be located close to the base, if not within its grounds.
In order to qualify for a separate polling place, a college or university would be required to have at least 500 students, faculty or staff registered to vote in the same precinct in which the school is located.
This bill comes on the heels of two election bills enacted into law earlier in the session, when the General Assembly overrode the governor’s vetoes.
The laws mandate that some polls in each district be open five days before Election Day, allow voters to file provisional ballots in any polling location in the state and establish hotlines to report voter intimidation.
The electronic poll books required by the bill are aimed at preventing early voters from casting more than one ballot and come at an estimated cost of $11.5 million. No such system currently exists.
In addition to establishing Election Day polling places for college students and faculty, the measure also mandates that some early voting polls be located on college campuses.
Democrats focused on this aspect of the legislation during debate on the bill.
“The bottom line for this bill . . . is to make it easier for everyone – not just people who go to school, not just people who are in particular professions or who serve our country – but to make it easier of everyone to vote,” said Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, D – Montgomery.
Depending on their size, counties have either one or three early voting locations. The bill would mandate that if a county only has one early voting poll, it should be located in the county seat.
Counties with three early voting sites would also have one at the county seat, but would be required to have another location at a community college.
The State Board of Elections estimates that the creation of separate polling precincts on college campuses will cost between $30,000 and $50,000 per location, but how many institutions of higher education would qualify for a polling location is not yet known.
The state would have to fund 50 percent of the bill’s costs, with the other half being paid for locally. The measure still has to be approved in the Senate, where an identical bill has been filed. A spokeswoman for the Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D – Baltimore County, said Hollinger would work with the bill’s House sponsors towards its passage.