Annapolis repeals its law on voter ID

Measure hindered turnout, critics say

April 10, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Annapolis' unique voter identification law was repealed by the city council Monday night, just months after it was tested for the first time in the fall elections.

The law, which required voters to present identification or sign an affidavit before casting their ballots in city elections, was lauded by supporters as a progressive way to fight voter fraud. But critics called the measure racist and said it served primarily to disenfranchise voters.

Alderman Cynthia Carter, who sponsored the legislation to overturn the law, said yesterday that she was pleased with the repeal.

"I feel like we are finally making a mark here in this town and doing something positive," Carter said.

Carter had sought the repeal of the law under the previous council, but the legislation was rejected last spring. Carter, who originally voted in favor of the voter identification law, which passed 7-2 in 1998, said she now believes the law had a disproportionate effect on African-American, elderly and impoverished voters who might stay away from the polls if they are confronted with additional restrictions.

`Ripple in the water'

"Just changes themselves cause a ripple in the water," Carter said. "We don't want to put any barriers" in place that keep people from voting, she said.

The voter identification law was championed by former alderman and Republican mayoral candidate Herbert H. McMillan.

McMillan, his supporters and others turned out at a public hearing in January to support keeping the law on the books.

Yesterday, McMillan called the repeal of one of his most significant measures on the council "a very negative step back into the past."

"I feel this is an idea whose time will come," McMillan said about the law, which was the only one of its kind in Maryland.

McMillan's successor on the council, Ward 5 Republican David Cordle, tried to amend the repeal legislation so that any voter identification measures adopted by the state or federal government also would apply to city elections. That amendment failed.

`Anti-McMillan'

Cordle said he believed the rapid introduction and vote on the repeal -- one of the first measures considered this winter by the new council -- showed an "anti-McMillan backlash."

But Ward 3 Alderman Classie Gillis Hoyle said she was "bombarded" by calls from constituents who wanted the law overturned since taking office in December.

At Monday's meeting, Hoyle pointed to lower voter turnout in the city's three mostly black wards -- Wards 3, 4 and 6 -- to support the repeal of the voter identification law.

"I maintain that is where we had a significant number of individuals who were impacted by that law," Hoyle said yesterday.

Cordle, who was joined by Aldermen Michael W. Fox and Louise Hammond in voting against the repeal, called Hoyle's argument "baseless."

"I just found no basis to repeal something that seemed to work very well, that held the voting public to a higher standard," Cordle said.

With the repeal of the voter identification law, the city will follow state law, which requires voters to give their name, address and date of birth before entering the voting booth.

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