Voters Brave Long Lines to Pass Relief

“By Lindsey McPherson and Elizabeth Piazza
Capital News Service

Voters waiting more than an hour in line, finding they are not registered in the system, submitting absentee and provisional ballots by the thousands — that’s typical, said Baltimore County Election Director Katie Brown.

“”This election was no different than any other election,”” she said.

But many Maryland voters are tired of the same old election process, so in a nearly 2-to-1 vote Tuesday, they passed a provision allowing the General Assembly to enact early voting laws.

Renee Knight, a 52-year-old Democrat, was one of a majority of Marylanders who said yes to early voting.

“”After an hour and a half of a line, I’m all for early voting,”” said Knight, who cast her ballot at the New Town Elementary School cafeteria in Owings Mills.

Long lines were also an issue in Prince George’s County, where 90 percent of voters supported early voting.

Tom Wargin, a 69-year-old Democrat from Riverdale, disapproved of the measure before he went to the polls, but he changed his mind after waiting for more than an hour and a half.

“”I was a no (vote) until I got here,”” he said.

In Montgomery County where long lines lasted throughout the morning, 80 percent of voters said yes to early voting.

Marjorie Roher, the public information officer for the county’s Board of Elections, said voting earlier in the day is becoming more of a trend.

“”The majority of voters chose to come to polling places before coming to work,”” she said.
This year the morning proved a better time to wait because of the afternoon and evening rain.

Ryan O’Donnell, executive director for Common Cause Maryland, called the ballot question’s approval a tremendous victory for the democratic process.

“”This will help to open up the process and the challenge now is to get the nuts and bolts right,”” he said.

O’Donnell emphasized the need for the state to create fair election rules, secure votes, adequately train poll workers and provide adequate funding.

State Republican leaders opposed the measure, saying it could invite voter fraud.

That was the same reason cited by 25-year-old Democrat Arrica Ashe of Owings Mills.
“”They don’t have a good policy involved,”” she said. “”You can basically vote as many times as you want because they’re not checking for IDs.””

State Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman, R-Howard, said he will push for stronger voter identification policies. He also said if voters must vote outside their precincts he’d like to limit them to polling places within their county.

“”Hopefully the majority party will not stifle or deter that,”” he said.

Despite Republican opposition, the measure received majority support in all 24 jurisdictions, according to figures released by the State Elections Board.

“”It’s not about politicians, it’s about voters,”” O’Donnell said. “”This must be done in the public’s best interest.””

The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation authorizing early voting in 2005 and again in 2006, but former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich vetoed both measures.

Democrats overrode the vetoes in both cases, but the legislation was declared unconstitutional by the state’s highest court in 2006 after Joan Capozzi of the Queen Anne’s County Republican Central Committee sued the State Board of Elections.

The early voting question was put on this year’s ballot so it could become a constitutional amendment.

Josef Rosenblatt, a 65-year-old Democrat from Pikesville, said the importance of this year’s election brought a lot of people to polls, so having the option to vote early, as voters do in about 30 other states, would have helped shorten lines.

“”Not all elections are going to be quite this involved or have as much interest,”” he said, “”but it’s a convenience for people to be able to vote early.””