Maryland Officials Fight Voter Discrimination - Southern Maryland Headline News

Maryland Officials Fight Voter Discrimination


By KARISSE CARMACK

WASHINGTON - Boards of elections are retraining workers and the state attorney general's office is on alert, as both gear up for the November presidential election to prevent the kind of voter discrimination problems that plagued the 2004 and 2006 election cycles.

In 2006, Prince George's County experienced several high-profile incidents of false political endorsements distributed in pamphlets. Elsewhere in Maryland, voters saw flyers that threatened arrests if they had back child support payments or unpaid traffic tickets—an effort to suppress the vote.

The incidents and others nationwide prompted federal hearings this week.

Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., led a hearing Tuesday questioning two Department of Justice officials on the agency's level of preparedness for the Nov. 4 general election.

In minority-majority districts such as Baltimore and Prince George's County, citizens waited in lines that were "three to five times long" compared to other districts due to "inadequate" resources, Cardin said.

Campaign organizations distributing "misleading, fraudulent information" was also considered discriminatory, Cardin said.

The federal officers said there is better coordination with the states and that DOJ will send monitors to some states.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler said in a telephone interview that his office is prepared.

Gansler created a 13-member Task Force on Voting Irregularities in response to the problems that occurred during the 2006 elections.

The independent panel recommended in April more transparency between the state and local election boards, better training for election officials, and compliance with the National Voter Registration Act.

Prince George's County Elections Administrator Alisha Alexander said she's executed that call for better training.

Poll workers were retrained on the touch-screen voting system. And election volunteers were reminded that outside influences are prohibited at the polls.

"They're not allowed to utilize cell phones unless they are calling our office to report any incidents, they're not to do any campaigning or electioneering at all, they're not allowed to discuss the election at all, or who they're planning to vote for, and their personal preferences," said Alexander.

Long lines that plagued the polls in past elections are also being dealt with.

Alexander expects an 85 to 90 percent voter turnout rate this year, compared to 50.81 percent in 2006 and 73.01 percent during the last presidential election in 2004, and ordered additional equipment to meet this demand.

A high voter turnout is expected due to the media attention turned on the candidates and the slots referendum on the ballot, Alexander said. She is also giving volunteers tips on how to manage lines, and make sure residents are at the correct voting precinct.

Both Gansler and Alexander said the best way citizens can avoid becoming a victim of voter discrimination is to be informed about the candidates and their issues.

"I just think it's important for voters to know who they plan to vote for before they go to the polls, and to read their sample ballots that are sent out directly from the Prince George's County Board of Elections, and to the research the candidate that they plan to vote for ahead of time," Alexander said.

Knowing your voter registration status and designated polling place will also make the voting process go more smoothly, said Alexander.

Marylanders should be "making informed decisions, take the time to assess the candidates," Gansler said.

The attorney general said that per the task force's recommendation, a hotline will be set up on Election Day for residents who want to report voting irregularities, however it is not yet active.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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