Early intervention

August 28, 2006

The Maryland Court of Appeals' order striking down early voting is unfortunate on any number of levels but it's hardly a death knell for democracy. As we've noted many times before, about two-thirds of states have adopted early voting and it's been proven to help raise voter turnout, albeit modestly. But thanks to numerous acts of partisanship including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s vetoes, his delaying actions on the Board of Public Works and the various court challenges, the public was left thoroughly confused and local election boards exhausted by the on-again, off-again gyrations.

At least the court has simplified matters for the upcoming election: Voters will head to the polls on Sept. 12 for the primary and Nov. 7 for the general election - unless, of course, they vote in advance by absentee ballot. Why is the early voting method of "no excuse" absentee balloting permitted while early voting by the more secure in-person method is not? We don't yet have the benefit of a court opinion to explain the distinction.

But chances are, the court's decision hinged on a narrow reading of the state constitution and had nothing at all to do with the merits of early voting.

Make no mistake, the maneuvering over early voting has always had little to do with the law's merits and a lot to do with partisan advantage. Democrats saw opportunity in a state where they hold a sizeable advantage in registration. Mr. Ehrlich and the Republicans sought to diminish that. Claims of widespread fraud if early voting was approved or conversely, voter suppression if it wasn't, were so much election year hyperbole.

Certainly, one must take with a smidgen of salt Mr. Ehrlich's claim that early voting is a "laudable concept" and that he will work with legislators to implement it in the future. Democratic lawmakers may have steamrolled their Republican colleagues on specifics like polling sites, but the day Republicans in Annapolis sign onto an early voting bill (at least one that doesn't require voter ID or some other discriminatory tactic) will be a cold day indeed in the legislative forge.

But the governor is right on at least one point - Maryland really ought to have an early voting law. Now it's up to whomever is elected this fall to produce a version that can pass muster with the state's highest court next year.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.