By CAITLIN JOHNSTON
ANNAPOLIS—Volunteers, interest groups and any individuals who want to print out the proper forms are rushing to register voters as Maryland's deadline looms less than two weeks away. But while recent voter-registration scandals have been cause for concern in some states, the State Board of Elections said the focus in Maryland is on voter roll maintenance, not registration fraud prevention.
"There's a process in place, a very specific process that we work through," said Ross Goldstein, spokesman for the Board of Elections. "We meet the letter of the law with respect to voter registration list maintenance."
Prominent businessman and voter-registration drive leader Nathan Sproul, who runs Strategic Allied Consulting, is at the center of a voter-fraud registration scandal in Florida. Sproul, who has consulted prominent Republican candidates such as Mitt Romney, was linked to hundreds of forms containing irregularities, including suspicious signatures and missing information in nine Florida counties.
Voter-registration fraud such as this, or when firms don't send in forms for voters from the opposite party, is insidious, said Paul Herrnson, director for the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland.
"People who believe they have taken the actions to register to vote show up on election day and then find out they aren't able to vote," Herrnson said.
While Herrnson calls such actions "heinous," he said it's not something he thinks is an issue in Maryland, even in a year when there are three high-profile referendums on the ballot.
"Maryland is a pretty clean state in terms of its politics, and the competition for the presidential election isn't very large," Herrnson said. "Things that go on in other states don't seem to happen here. Not that they can't, but they don't."
While recent presidential campaigns in Maryland have been dominated by Democrats, and therefore not competitive, Marylanders are voting on three contentious referendums in November. The ballot questions on same-sex marriage, the Dream Act and casinos have raised the political stakes during this presidential cycle, with both in- and out-of-state organizations pouring millions of dollars into the campaigns.
On the casino question alone, both sides have contributed more than $34 million to their respective campaigns.
In order to maintain voter rolls, the State Board of Elections checks voter information each month against death and prosecution data to make sure the roll is up to date, Goldstein said. But there is no specific internal regulation for monitoring voter registration drives or tracking what groups are running such drives.
In fact, if individuals wanted to print out 50 registration forms and register people in their front yard, they could, Goldstein said.
"There's nothing that could stop you from doing that," Goldstein said. "But to be an official voter registration volunteer, there's a little program you would have to sit through in order to receive materials from us."
But the state department doesn't maintain a list of which individuals have gone through this training, though some counties do, Goldstein said.
The deadline to register to vote, update address information and request a polling place change is 9 p.m., Oct. 16.
For more information, visit the state Board of Elections website at http://www.elections.state.md.us/.