michelle janaye nealy
ANNAPOLIS — A bill that would extend early voting to the Sunday before Election Day and double the number of early voting centers was taken up Thursday by the House Ways and Means committee.
Long lines that caused Maryland voters to wait hours at polling stations on Election Day prompted lawmakers to seek solutions.
“We need to make sure that there is early voting the Sunday before the election. We also need to increase the number of early voting centers so that for the general election, at least, people don’t have to wait in such long lives,” Baltimore Democratic Delegate Samuel Rosenberg said during a committee hearing.
“We were ranked the third-longest wait on Election Day. That’s not an honor we want to maintain,” he added.
Maryland currently allows early voting over a six-day period and sets the early voting hours as 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on all days but Sunday, when they are noon to 6 p.m.
If passed, the bill would give voters a total of nine days to vote and double the number of early voting centers in every jurisdiction for the general election. It would leave the decision to increase voting centers for primaries to the State Board of Elections and the local elections boards in each county.
Supporters of the legislation told the House committee that increasing the number of early voting centers and early voting days would ensure that more voters could access the polls, including minorities who historically have met challenges when accessing the polls.
But opponents said that increasing the number of poll centers and workers creates an unnecessary budgetary strain and more work for poll workers. Dissenters also argued that counties should be allowed to decide whether or not they should increase the number of polling places necessary for an election.