Mail-voting extension sought

November 05, 2006|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,sun reporter

Facing the possibility that thousands of potential voters might not have time to get their absentee ballots postmarked by tomorrow's deadline - meaning they wouldn't be counted for Tuesday's election - an ad hoc coalition of attorneys groups and civil rights organizations is asking the state to extend the cutoff by a day.

The move comes as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and others have urged voters to eschew polling places and vote by mail, overwhelming elections boards with requests for a record number of absentee ballots. With the deadline to have the ballots postmarked looming, some voters still have not received their ballots.

"This is such a common-sense, easy thing to do in the face of a real problem," David Rocah, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said yesterday. "It's somewhat inconceivable to me that the board isn't willing to act." Rocah said the group will consider going to court tomorrow if the state board denies the request.

The state Board of Elections was asked Friday to extend the deadline for postmarks by 24 hours until the end of Election Day. The board has not formally acted, Deputy Elections Administrator Ross Goldstein said yesterday, though two board members told him they are not inclined to make the change.

Paul G. Pinsky, the Prince George's County senator who heads the legislative committee that would have to approve any emergency regulation request made by the board, said he would be willing to expedite any needed change, especially because he doesn't think it would be disruptive and instead might ensure more votes would be counted.

As of Friday, election officials had received requests for more than 188,000 absentee ballots.

If a voter is in town, he or she can deliver a filled-out ballot to the local board of election any time Tuesday. If the ballot has not been received, voters can go to their polling places Tuesday and request a provisional ballot. Rocah said provisional ballots are a poor substitute because there was a shortage of such ballots in September's primary and sometimes voters are turned away. Also, he said, people who are out of town don't have that option.

The Maryland Election Protection Coalition is made up of the ACLU, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, the NAACP, People for the American Way Foundation, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and the National Bar Association.

stephanie.desmon @baltsun.com

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