Voting wrinkle gets ironed out

The Political Game

Election: When a GOP effort to ease absentee balloting hit a snag, a compromise evolved.

October 29, 2002|By David Nitkin and Howard Libit | David Nitkin and Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

AN EFFORT BY the state Republican Party to get absentee ballots into as many hands as possible - a smart tactic as the race for governor comes down to the wire - has run into problems.

The GOP has mailed thousands of preprinted absentee ballot applications this month to those who have voted absentee in the past, and told recipients to send the form to local election boards to get a ballot.

But according to the state Board of Elections, those applications are no good, in part because they don't include a place for the voter's date of birth. When Republicans learned the state board wouldn't automatically distribute ballots when they receive the mass-printed application, they threatened to sue.

The elections board and the GOP worked out a compromise: Local elections offices would make an effort to contact voters who send in the forms and offer to get them an official state-sanctioned absentee ballot application.

Still, the deadline for handing in completed applications (or written informal requests, which are also acceptable) is today. So it's possible that many potential Republican voters will have applications rejected because they'll miss the deadline.

Between today and Nov. 5, absentee ballots can be obtained in person at local elections offices. Linda Lamone, the state elections chief, said voters can also print absentee ballot applications from the board's Web site.

"Neither the state board nor the local boards wish to prevent any qualified voter from receiving an absentee ballot and casting it in a timely manner," said Donna Duncan, a state elections official, in a memo to local boards last week.

Dan Ronayne, a Maryland spokesman for the Republican National Committee, would not say how many applications had been distributed, and said he was disturbed by the state board's ruling. "We're just hopeful that this is not an example of a Democratic monopoly trying to suppress Republican turnout," he said.

But the issue of rejected absentee applications could loom larger if the race between Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. winds up as close as it now appears - particularly if lawyers get involved in determining a final outcome, as happened in 1994. "It's tough to say how this is going to impact the election," Ronayne said.

Tempers stirred as group takes sides in close race

Are groups that have taken sides in next week's gubernatorial election in for a rough ride with state government if their preferred candidate loses?

John Nugent, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, fears that could be the case, based on a phone call he says he received last week.

After Planned Parenthood held a news conference denouncing Ehrlich's record on abortion rights, lobbyist Bruce Bereano - who has made no secret of his support for the GOP gubernatorial candidate - called and criticized the group, Nugent said.

"He was very upset," Nugent said. "The last thing he said was, `You had better watch out.' He said there will be a price to pay when he wins, that Ehrlich will de-fund Planned Parenthood."

About $1 million of the group's $6 million budget comes from government funding, Nugent said, so such a threat isn't one to be taken lightly.

Bereano, who served on the Planned Parenthood board in the 1980s and has donated money to the group, vehemently denied making any kind of threat. He said he called Nugent because he recently received a fund-raising solicitation and questioned the group's support for Townsend.

"I made it clear I was calling on my own, as a past board member and someone who has contributed," Bereano said. "My commitment to Planned Parenthood and what they stand for is very clear, and I would never think or talk that way or want that."

Ehrlich's campaign quickly distanced itself.

"Mr. Bereano has no affiliation with this campaign, nor do his comments represent the viewpoints of our campaign or, more importantly, Bob Ehrlich," said campaign spokesman Shareese DeLeaver. "We were unaware of this phone call to Planned Parenthood, nor do we in any way condone his actions or his alleged threats."

Negative campaigns get thumbs down in survey

Most voters don't like negative campaigning, according to the results of a survey released recently by the Institute for Global Ethics, based in Camden, Maine.

But the type of advertising seen most frequently in the race between Townsend and Ehrlich, the survey shows, passes muster. Sixty-eight percent of voters say criticizing an opponent's voting record is fair game.

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