By Senator Roy Dyson (D-29th)
On November 4, Marylanders will be asked on referendum to vote early voting thumbs up or down. If approved by the voters, the Constitutional Amendment will provide for early voting and allow voters to obtain absentee ballots if that is the method of voting they choose.
The path of this Constitutional Amendment to its place on the ballot has been a long and difficult route. In 2005, the General Assembly approved the early voting and the absentee ballot on demand legislation. Both were vetoed by Governor Robert Ehrlich. In 2006, the Assembly overrode both vetoes. Then, the Governor gave his support to placing the legislation on referendum.
On August 25, 2006, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the early voting legislation was unconstitutional. The Court ruling stated, "The General Assembly exceeded its constitutional authority" in approving early voting. The Court pointed out that the Constitution states specifically that Marylanders can vote only on a single day in November.
If the referendum is approved, early voting will begin in the 2010 election. Maryland early voting law establishes early voting polling places for a 5-day period, beginning 8 days prior to Election Day and operating for 8 hours each day. There will be three early voting places in each of the big counties and at least one in each of the small counties.
Opponents of early voting fear it will spawn fraud and voting irregularities. Supporters want to expand the election process and open it to more voters. What's bad about that? This is a democracy. And the more citizens who exercise their right to vote, the stronger the democracy will be.
Early voting works well in 35 states, representing more than one half of the total U. S. voting population. Twenty percent of general election voters cast their ballot before election day in the 2004 Presidential Election. That represents an increase of 14% over the 200o Presidential Election.
According to the Center for Policy Alternatives, voter turnout has declined over the past 40 years. Although 58% of the voting age population voted in the 2004 Presidential Election - the highest percentage since 1992 - turnout levels are significantly lower than they were in the 1960s.
Millions of Americans do not vote because they cannot appear in person at their polling places on Election Day. In urban areas, tight schedules and long commutes make it difficult for some workers and students to get to the polls. In rural areas, people may live far from their polling places. Of the registered voters who failed to show up at the 2004 Presidential Election, 46% or 7.5 million Americans, told the U. S. Census Bureau that they did not vote for logistical reasons. They could not take time off from work or school, were out of town or ill, lacked transportation or had a conflicting schedule.
Absentee ballots on demand and early voting make it possible for more people to vote. As I see it, making it easier for more people to vote poses no threat to the fair election process. Rather, voter suppression and making it more difficult for people to vote is the real threat to the fair election process.