Just days after opponents of early voting took their case to the state's highest court, Democratic leaders shot back yesterday - announcing a campaign to encourage voters to take advantage of Maryland's new but contested law that allows some polling places to open for five days before Election Day.
"While the legal fight may very well continue, I think it's incumbent upon all of us to prepare the electorate to take advantage of this law that has been put into effect to benefit them," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, after an event announcing the effort at the Clarence H. Du Burns Arena, one of Baltimore's designated early-voting locations.
"Too many people complain that their work situations make it impossible for them to get to the polls between the typical hours," Cummings said. "The more Marylanders participate, the stronger our state will be."
As part of its strategy, the Maryland Democratic Party intends to hold rallies on the issue and establish a toll-free information phone number dedicated to early voting, which was not activated as of yesterday.
A Democrat-controlled General Assembly passed early-voting laws last year and refined them this year, arguing that giving voters more flexibility would increase turnout. Democrats have a large voter-registration edge in Maryland, and political experts say higher turnout could favor Democrats.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed both early-voting bills, and Republicans say the procedure was passed without sufficient safeguards to protect against fraud.
More than 30 states have early-voting laws, and fraud has not been a widespread concern elsewhere.
Ehrlich is backing a petition drive aimed at overturning the bills. Marylanders for Fair Elections, a volunteer group supported by the governor, is involved in a legal dispute with the State Board of Elections over whether it gathered enough valid signatures and met key deadlines in its effort.
Whether early voting takes effect this fall could hinge on a decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which is expected to hear the case July 25. But Democrats asserted yesterday that early voting is the law in Maryland and they intend to inform voters about it.