Early Voting Gains Ground in Md. Assembly

"We're sending it to the voters of Maryland to let them make the decision"—Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-29)

By LIZ FARMER, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS - After nearly a week of delays, a measure that would allow for early voting in Maryland gained momentum in the General Assembly this week and now seems on the fast track toward approval by both houses.

The Senate set the stage Thursday for a final vote on the bill - a constitutional amendment that would be put before the voters - following by 24 hours similar action in the House. Democrats in both chambers won preliminary approval for the measure by turning back Republican efforts to stall the bill with debate and amendments.

"We're sending it to the voters of Maryland to let them make the decision," said Sen. Roy P. Dyson, D-St. Mary's, the floor manager of the bill. "It will then come back to us in '09 where we can go over all the [legislation] again."

The bill has the support of top Democrats in both houses as well as Gov. Martin O'Malley. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it will require a three-fifths majority in each house for final passage, a standard the bill's supporters say they will easily meet when the measure is voted on, probably next week.

Republicans had poked and prodded in two days of floor debate in the Senate and one in the House but did not succeed in altering it or slowing evident momentum for its passage.

However, the Senate minority leader, David R. Brinkley, R-Frederick, continued to express his doubts about preventing what he said would be a greater likelihood for voter fraud. The GOP leader had proposed an amendment that would keep early voters from casting ballots outside their counties before Election Day.

Concerns for accuracy and election fraud are two themes that the GOP has been replaying on the Senate floor during the past week.

"I think the closer you keep your voting to where you live, the more accurate it becomes," said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, during the Senate debate Thursday.

Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, R-Howard, the Minority Whip, also tried to tack on an amendment that would require early voters to show identification. Democrats, however, voiced their concerns that such a condition could ward off voters entirely.

"I do think it will have a discouraging effect on the people that are voting," said Majority Leader Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Howard. "We're trying to encourage people to vote, not discourage them."

While both proposed amendments were easily defeated, at least two Democrats, Senators James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, and George W. Della, Jr., D-Baltimore, crossed party lines to vote for them. "Some of my constituents have told me that we're not doing enough to safeguard the electoral process," Della said afterwards, and added that he believed the two Republican-proposed amendments were reasonable. "We should eliminate this image that we're not doing everything we can to make the election process fair."

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