Election reform -- a step at a time Absentee ballots: Legislature must make change well before March 5 primary.

February 05, 1996

UNDER NORMAL circumstances, the Maryland General Assembly moves with the speed of a tortoise. But with changes needed in the election law before the March 5 presidential primary, lawmakers are acting more like rabbits this time.

What legislators are considering for immediate change hardly constitutes a revolution. That will come later if the Assembly sets up a blue-ribbon commission to do a complete rewrite of the state's outmoded election laws. For now, the focus is on implementing a change that will make the March 5 primary more efficient for some voters.

Step No. 1 in this process is doing away with a redundant and unnecessary feature of absentee balloting in Maryland. As it stands, anyone wishing to vote in advance of the election must fill out two affidavits -- first when you request an absentee ballot and second when filling out the actual ballot. This is needlessly complicated and created enormous controversy in the 1994 gubernatorial election last November.

Some jurisdictions ignored the state requirement about filling out an affidavit to receive an absentee ballot. It led to wholesale challenges and lengthy delays as election officials tried to check the original affidavit requests for ballots against the ballots themselves.

A commission headed by former Republican U.S. attorney George Beall recommends that this procedure be simplified by eliminating the first affidavit since the voter has to fill out the same form when submitting the absentee ballot. That would end confusion, make it easier to vote in absentia and uncomplicate one aspect of the March election.

Already both the Senate and House have approved their own bills; now the bills are exchanged and differences must be reconciled. We urge lawmakers to see that this bill reaches the governor's desk in plenty of time to simplify absentee balloting in March. Who knows? It might even encourage more citizens to vote.

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