Hundreds turned away from polls Address change at MVA meant many were dropped

'Motor voter' law cited

Election officials inundated with calls from irate citizens

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 from polls 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 so-called "motor voter" law -- which was designed to make voter registration easier and get more people to the polls. It is called "motor voter" because its basic provision calls for registration in conjunction with the issuance of driver's licenses.

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

If drivers want their address to remain the same, they are are supposed to 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 election board, in turn, 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 -- which apparently was the cause of the problems yesterday.

Election officials are pointing to the MVA form as partly to blame, 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. "It's the No. 1 item on our agenda. We've got lots of suggestions for changing this."

City election officials and others speculated that city residents RTC 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.

"I think Baltimore's getting hit harder because people are registering their cars outside the city to save on insurance," said Sharon B. Benzil, an assistant attorney general assigned to the city election board.

But that apparently was not the only problem related to first statewide election since the motor-voter law became effective Jan. 1, 1995.

Some drivers -- particularly in Baltimore City and Montgomery County -- who thought they had registered to vote at the MVA discovered in recent weeks that they were not registered, election officials said.

"We've received maybe 15-20 calls today from people who said they filled out the proper forms at the MVA, and we have no record of them at all," said Barbara E. Jackson, city election administrator.

Carol S. Evans, Montgomery County's election administrator, said she received several similar complaints yesterday, but added that in the past few weeks, her office had received "hundreds" of calls from residents wondering where their new voter registration cards were.

Pub Date: 11/06/96

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