Beall task force criticizes absentee ballot affidavit Panel leader calls required signature 'a redundancy'

January 24, 1996|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Maryland legislators were urged yesterday to change state law to avoid a repeat of the challenge to thousands of absentee ballots cast in the 1994 gubernatorial election.

At issue in the challenges was the requirement that voters sign an affidavit before obtaining an absentee ballot, said George Beall, a Republican former prosecutor who headed a task force that examined Maryland's election laws last year.

Because the voter must sign an affidavit on the ballot itself, the first affidavit should not be required, Mr. Beall told the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. "This is a redundancy. It's unnecessary," he said.

The proposal from Mr. Beall's task force grew directly from the 1994 election, in which Democrat Parris N. Glendening defeated Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey by fewer than 6,000 votes.

Mrs. Sauerbrey charged fraud, but her challenge was rejected in court.

During the formal ballot count, Mrs. Sauerbrey's supporters challenged absentee ballots cast in the three areas carried by Mr. Glendening. Mr. Glendening's backers challenged the absentee ballots cast in counties carried by Mrs. Sauerbrey.

It became clear during the vote count that some counties ignored state law by issuing the ballots to many voters without first requiring affidavits.

Many of the challenged ballots were cast by elderly voters, most of them housebound.

"We were all exposed to hoards of lawyers peering over the shoulder of election officials flyspecking the absentee ballots," Mr. Beall said. "This was embarrassing to all of us -- Republicans and Democrats alike."

Baltimore Democratic Sen. Clarence W. Blount, committee chairman, said he saw no problem with the legislation. But he said it would be hard to enact the measure before this year's March 5 primary, as hoped for by Mr. Beall.

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