City asking to be exempted from 5-year purge of voters

January 23, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- A Baltimore elections official pleaded with a legislative committee yesterday to support a bill that would make it easier for the city to keep voters on its registration rolls.

Barbara Jackson, administrator of the Baltimore elections board, wants the city to be exempted from a state law that requires her to remove the names of registered voters who have not cast a ballot in the previous five years.

"People should have a choice to vote or not to vote," she said.

Ms. Jackson said citizens have told her they find the five-year purge insulting. "They feel they shouldn't have to vote if there isn't a candidate or an issue they're interested in," she told the House Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee.

Besides, she said, removing the names from the rolls cost the financially troubled city $356,000 during the last five years.

In that time, the city cut 178,000 people from its rolls for failing to vote, Ms. Jackson said. That's a high number, compared with other jurisdictions, elections officials say. Baltimore now has 327,000 registered voters.

Many of the voters purged from the rolls end up registering again within two years -- at an additional cost to the public, Ms. Jackson said.

It would be easier and cheaper to update the rolls by sending letters to verify voters' addresses, Ms. Jackson and other elections officials have said. That way, people who had not moved could be retained even if they had taken a five-year hiatus from the ballot box.

The idea may be a tough sell to legislators. Several delegates seemed skeptical when they questioned Ms. Jackson yesterday. They expressed more interest in improving efforts to register and educate potential voters.

But the present system causes thousands of would-be voters to be turned away on election day, Ms. Jackson said. Last November in Baltimore, 14,000 people were rejected at the polls because they had been purged from the list or had moved.

Marvin L. Meyn, deputy administrator of the Maryland State Administrative Board of Election Laws, said he believes a bill to abolish the five-year purge system statewide will be introduced during this General Assembly session.

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