By ELIZABETH M. PIAZZA
ANNAPOLIS (Oct. 29, 2008)—Most Marylanders agree that when it comes to voting, they will do "whatever it takes" to exercise their right, even if it means inconvenience.
But they've been divided along party lines since 2005 on whether to allow qualified voters to cast ballots at their home or any poll up to two weeks before an election.
Tuesday, however, is decision day. The state is asking voters to decide Question 1, which would allow voters to cast ballots at any qualified poll and authorize voting up to two weeks before an election.
Heidi Hair, 41, of Mechanicsville, said she wishes she had the opportunity to vote early, but is concerned that voting outside of polling districts might make it more difficult to keep track of votes.
Clark Schnepfe, comptroller at WFT Engineering in Rockville, was initially very supportive of Question 1, until he learned that voters would have the option to vote outside of their districts.
"Voting is not inconvenient because you make time for it," Schnepfe said. "Voting early is absolutely a great idea—you just have to be able to prevent the fraud."
Thirty-three states allow early voting and millions of voters have already cast their ballots. Proponents of Question 1 claim voting early increases voter turnout, eases long lines, reduces lengthy waits and generally makes it more convenient for voters. Opponents fear that it could increase voter fraud.
The latter problem has many Maryland voters concerned.
"The biggest thing for me that throws me off for Maryland is that we don't ask for identification," said Melissa Fennelly, 39, a Democrat from Annapolis, who will vote yes on Tuesday. "That's the only thing about Question 1 that makes me wonder—there are no checks and balances."
Maryland's Constitution requires that voters cast ballots in their specified election district, and each voter is listed in that district's poll book. It does not specify that voters show identification. They only need to give their name, address and date of birth, which is compared to the poll book.
Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman, R-Howard, strongly opposes Question 1 because of the lack of identification requirements. He said anyone can walk into any poll and vote in someone else's name.
He is also concerned that legislators will be unwilling to pass the necessary identification laws to prevent fraud if the question passes. Other voters agree.
"When you vote, you should have an ID of some sort," said Francis Keller, 67, owner of the Smoke Shop in Annapolis. For Keller, people who don't want to stand in line because of inconvenience are civically irresponsible.
"I don't see anything particularly wrong with early voting, because if it's done properly, there shouldn't be an issue with voter fraud," he said. Keller is ambivalent about Question 1 since it does not specifically deal with voter identification and he will discuss the issue further with his wife before making a final decision.
Debate on the issue began in 2005 when the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation authorizing it. Then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich vetoed it then and again in 2006.
The assembly overrode the veto, but after a review by the state's highest court, early voting was declared unconstitutional.
"This is very important in the sense that three-quarters of the states allow citizens to vote prior to Election Day," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, the referendum's lead sponsor. "It increases voter turnout and allows people to vote at their own convenience and makes certain voters won't be disenfranchised."
Miller cited the ice storm during February's Maryland primary as an example of how early voting might alleviate situations of disenfranchisement. The ice-covered roads and traffic gridlock prevented a number of people from voting.
Early voting tends to attract those voters who are already going to vote, said James Hicks, research director at the Early Voting Center at Reed College in Oregon. There is no evidence that early voting increases voter fraud, however, and many states that allow it tend to have voter identification procedures.
Mary Mireles, a Republican from Owings, does not support early voting and thinks there should be only one special day to vote.
"Freedom is not like a McDonald's run through the drive-through, get your happy meal and go. There's nothing wrong with waiting in line."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.