Slow-Moving Election Reform

July 28, 1995

It's no secret that Maryland's election system needs a thorough review and revamping. And yet Gov. Parris N. Glendening waited six months to name a task force to come up with a plan of action. What was a priority for the governor in January is now a distant memory.

Still, you've got to give Mr. Glendening credit for putting together a top-notch panel, headed by George Beall, the former U.S. attorney from a prominent Republican family. The inclusion of Marie Garber, a former state elections board administrator who is a national expert on the subject, is also a decided plus.

But the group has little time to do its work. Mr. Glendening's long delay in selecting task force members means a rushed schedule of meetings and hearings. Recommendations to the governor and General Assembly are due Dec. 31.

There's plenty to discuss. Last year's gubernatorial election ended in charges of voting irregularities. The root cause is that Maryland lacks a unified, statewide election system. Instead, it has a decentralized network of 24 disparate election operations. Control from the state board in Annapolis is so weak the local boards sometimes disregard directives.

Mr. Beall hit at the heart of the matter when he said the task force plans to focus on "the process of registration and voting and to look at ways in which the whole system can be improved and updated. We must make the system of elections consistent throughout the entire state."

Bravo!

Every jurisdiction should have the same election process and compatible voting machines that can be coordinated through TC central office in Annapolis. In today's high-tech world, such a unified system is entirely possible at a reasonable price.

The task force should benefit from the governor's selection earlier this month of an entirely new state elections board well versed in the technicalities of voting laws. There need not be any finger-pointing by the task force, since the new state board is as anxious as the Beall group to create an improved and tamper-proof system.

Reforming the state's voting procedures should not be a partisan matter. Too often, Republican supporters of the losing gubernatorial candidate, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, have used their complaints to pummel Mr. Glendening. That may be good politics, but it is bad government. It is time to put the 1994 results behind us and begin making the changes necessary to give Maryland a modern, efficient and well-coordinated election system.

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