Hundreds of voters turned away

November 06, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of Maryland voters were turned away from polling places yesterday after discovering they had been dropped from voting rolls for changing their addresses with the Motor Vehicle Administration.

Baltimore City election officials said they were inundated with at least 150 calls and visits from irate voters who were surprised to learn they could not vote because they no longer were registered.

In Baltimore County, election administrator Doris J. Suter said "at least that many" voters were turned away there, because their names were taken off the rolls for having changed their addresses.

Similar problems were reported statewide, but appeared to be on a much smaller scale, said Gene M. Raynor, the state election administrator.

The address problem apparently stems from a provision of the National Voter Registration Act -- the "motor voter" law -- which was designed to make registration easier and get more people to vote. It is called "motor voter" because its basic provision calls for registration in conjunction with the issuance of driver's licenses.

The law requires that address changes at the MVA be sent to local election boards -- unless the driver indicates he or she does not want the change used for voter registration purposes.

If drivers want their address to remain the same, they must check a box on the form indicating that they do not want the change of address to be used for voter registration purposes. If the box is not checked, the MVA notifies the local election board of the address change. The board then sends a new voter registration form to the voter's new address.

When the address is changed to another jurisdiction, the driver-voter's name is dropped from the voting rolls of the old jurisdiction.

Election officials put part of the blame on the MVA form, saying it is confusing in its wording and in the location of the check-off box.

"I think the form's the problem," Raynor said.

City election officials and others speculated that city residents were deliberately changing their car registrations to addresses outside the city to save on insurance premiums -- but then were surprised to learn that their voting registration also was changed.

But that apparently was not the only problem for the first statewide election since motor voter took effect Jan. 1, 1995.

Some drivers who thought they had registered to vote at the MVA discovered that they were not registered, election officials said.

Pub Date: 11/06/96

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