Early Primary Means Early Voter Deadlines

By ANJU KAUR, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON (November 19, 2007) - Today is the deadline for voters to change party affiliation.

The state and local boards of elections will be open until 9 p.m. to accept changes. Forms and contact information for all election boards are available at www.elections.state.md.us.

Maryland moved its primary from March to Feb. 12, so all deadlines were moved ahead. If voters don't pay close attention, they may miss key cut-off dates, election officials warn.

"The change-of-party deadline is always a surprise because it comes three months before (the election)," said Sandi Logan, election director for Caroline County. "It's not something people realize before it's too late."

Now it's even earlier.

Because Caroline County does not have any local candidates, voters don't think about elections until closer to Election Day, she said.

Sample ballots are sent to all Democratic and Republican voters about 10 days before the election, with pertinent information such as polling location. But many deadlines will have passed by then.

Voters have until Jan. 22 to register and until Feb. 5 to request an absentee ballot.

"It is possible that voters have not made that connection (between the new primary date and the early deadlines)," said Marjorie Roher, public information officer for the Montgomery County Board of Elections. But she expects most voters are generally aware that pertinent dates are coming sooner.

The League of Women Voters of Montgomery County is already active in voter education, setting up information tables and handing out brochures outside libraries and at community events.

"People are aware," said Diane Hibino, the league's president.

Among the 3,222 Maryland voters who changed their party affiliation in October, 421 were from Montgomery County, the second-largest change among counties, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections voter activity report.

But Mary Wagner, director of voter registration for the Maryland State Board of Elections, disagrees that voters have picked up on the early dates.

"People still think the primary is in March," she said.

Her office uses news releases to inform voters, but she is concerned that the media has not published enough notices.

Logan also complained that election-related announcements come late or get buried inside newspapers.

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