Cumberland Times-News

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June 22, 2013

Early voting extension could wipe out fraud safeguards, say election officials

Delegates hope to increase turnout by adding weekend

ANNAPOLIS — Two lawmakers want to increase turnout by extending early voting through the Sunday before Election Day, a move election officials say would wipe out safeguards that keep people from voting twice.

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, and Delegate Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, wrote a letter to state elections administrator Linda Lamone June 6 asking for the change. Cardin serves as the Ways and Means subcommittee chairman for election law and is a probable candidate for attorney general in 2014. The delegates argued an extra weekend could increase voter turnout.

“Maryland’s early voting period remains one of the most limited in the nation,” Hixson and Cardin wrote. “The Brennan Center for Justice recommends allowing early voting on the weekend before Election Day, because early voting turnout increases as public excitement and media coverage of the election build as Election Day approaches.”

But Lamone wrote back and said that implementing the change would essentially reverse a standing election policy that was designed to prevent voter fraud. The policy requires updating all electronic poll books before Election Day — an administrative step that takes up the full weekend before Election Day. Early voting ends on the last Thursday of the month before the general or primary election.

“As you may recall, when early voting was enacted, Maryland policy makers wanted early voting administered in a manner that would be capable of preventing a voter from voting more than once,” Lamone wrote in a June 11 letter.

“Abandoning the practice of updating poll books before Election Day with early voting information would address most of the administrative issues associated with early voting through Sunday. However, it would also represent a significant policy change from preventing a voter from voting more than once to relying on deterrence and prosecution after the fact.”

Last month, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law House Bill 224, “Improving Access to Voting.” The bill expanded early voting, opened up online ballot access to all absentee voters and enhanced security measures for online voter services, but it also called for a number of studies to begin July 1.

The new law also allows same-day voter registration and voting during early voting in 2016.

State board officials were asked to study all aspects of expanding early voting through the Sunday before Election Day.

They were also supposed to review and target maximum wait times for voters, study the use of the online ballot marking tool for disabled voters, and hire an independent consultant to review security and recommend improvements for all online voter services.

While Hixson’s and Cardin’s letter specifically expressed concern about the security of online voter services such as online absentee ballot applications, they called for the discontinuation of the security process of updating the electronic poll books during early voting.

Hixson and Cardin asked the state to study “at least two states” that allow early voting the weekend before Election Day, although the new law states at least five must be studied.

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