Rights group seeks to push state on motor-voter law Organization wants same-day registration

August 16, 1996|By John M. Biers | John M. Biers,STATES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- A leading civil rights group plans to request a federal court injunction today to force Maryland to remedy in time for this November's elections what the group claims are failings in the state's implementation of the "motor voter" law.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. wants the state to provide same-day voter registration for thousands of people LDF says have been missed in Maryland's implementation of the law.

LDF is suing the state for its overall failure to execute the federal law, which took effect Jan. 1, 1995, but the group's attorneys say immediate action is necessary before the 1996 elections.

Maryland's deadline for registering to vote is Oct. 7.

"Time is of the essence," said Judith Browne, an attorney with LDF, which is independent of the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We want a remedy quickly. We want the state to react quickly."

But state officials, who continued to stress Maryland's commitment to voter registration, said LDF's solution was impractical.

"It's an administrative nightmare," said Deputy Attorney General Carmen M. Shepard, who has been negotiating with LDF on behalf of the state.

The law, the National Voter Registration Act, requires states to offer voter registration forms and assistance at social services, motor vehicle and other state agencies.

Last month, LDF filed suit in U.S. District Court against Gov. Parris N. Glendening and several agency administrators.

The group claimed there were numerous instances in which residents were not informed of their right to register or not provided the necessary forms.

When the suit was filed, state officials stressed their commitment to implementing motor-voter and said any failings were isolated instances of bureaucratic blunders.

Since the group filed suit, Browne said LDF has met with state attorneys twice.

She acknowledged that the state is "improving the system" of implementing motor-voter and that she has not heard any recent stories to the contrary. But the state still is not offering a solution for dealing with the thousands of potential voters it has already missed, she said.

"We don't feel we've had thorough discussions on [same-day registration]," Browne said.

Under LDF's plan, the state would draw up a list of all Maryland residents who applied for a driver's license or benefits in one of the agencies after the law took effect who are not registered to vote.

The state then would be required to contact the residents by mail and provide the locale of their polling place.

Residents would be allowed to register to vote on Election Day at that locale and their names would be checked against a list provided by the state.

Shepard, who expressed surprise at LDF's actions, said the group's plan was unworkable.

She pointed to the state's proposal to contact prospective voters it missed via mail, either with voter registration material or with information on how to register to vote.

Shepard said she was confident the plan -- which LDF has rejected in negotiations -- would enable prospective voters to register in time for the November election.

"I think if there are people we missed, we should make an effort to register them," said Shepard. "We don't need same-day registration."

Browne said the state's remedy is inadequate because it would not provide prospective voters with the staff assistance they are guaranteed under the law.

In addition, the state's plan might not allow a prospective registrant enough time to return an application by the Oct. deadline.

Pub Date: 8/16/96

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