ANNAPOLIS – Up to 1 million Maryland residents who are eligible to vote are not registered to do so as the deadline to sign up for the November election creeps closer, Maryland political leaders said Tuesday.
The officials, speaking at a bipartisan press conference near the State House, said repeatedly that the registration deadline is Oct. 14 – Gov. Martin O’Malley, for example, mentioned the date six times in his four-minute speech.
Voters should also be aware of intimidation tactics such as fake endorsements. They can call a hotline number to report such incidents, several speakers said.
“We’re taking steps to make it easier for people to cast their votes, but we have to be registered,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.
Registration has already climbed this year. There were 3.32 million registered voters in Maryland as of Tuesday, up from 3.14 million in late January, according to the state Board of Elections. The bulk of that jump was for the Democratic Party, which gained nearly 140,000 voters, to 1.87 million statewide.
James Pelura, chairman of the state Republican Party, said he has a picture of an Iraqi woman flashing a “V” for victory, and her index finger is caked in blue ink, a sign that she had just voted. The woman, he said, risked “life and limb” to vote, whereas Americans find any excuse not to.
“We complain when it’s raining,” said Pelura, a veterinarian who keeps the picture in his office.
At the press conference, held in a courtyard called Lawyers Mall, Attorney General Douglas Gansler described some common voter intimidation tactics. These include fliers that say voters who owe child support payments will be arrested at the polls, which is false; and fliers announcing endorsements from people who do not support that candidate, which Gansler said is “akin to libel and slander.”
The 2006 election was marred by such incidents. The night before that year’s election, for example, mailers were sent throughout Prince George’s County with pictures of three prominent, black Maryland Democrats, with the headline “Ehrlich-Steele Democrats” above them.
The headline referred to Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr, who was running for re-election, and his former lieutenant governor, Michael S. Steele, who was running for U.S. Senate and is also a Republican. None of the three Democrats in the mailer had endorsed Ehrlich, and only one had endorsed Steele.
“These are OUR Choices,” said the flier, which critics slammed as an attempt to trick black Democrats into voting for Ehrlich and Steele.
The voter hotline number is 800-222-8683. Residents can register to vote in county board of elections offices, in local libraries and other places, officials said. More information can be found at the state Board of Elections web site: http://www.elections.state.md.us.