Senators debate early voting

Proposed constitutional amendment would let voters decide about opening some polls

February 10, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

The state Senate began debate yesterday on a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide whether they want a limited number of polls to open several days before an election.

Early voting has turned into a multiyear legislative effort among Democrats in the face of creative and persistent Republican opposition. Republicans have long argued that early voting is a political maneuver to make it easier for voters in heavily Democratic areas to reach the polls.

Sen. Roy P. Dyson, a Southern Maryland Democrat, said it's about convenience for everyone.

"We are one of the most educated states, but we're No. 30 in the nation in terms of voter turnout," he said. "We don't know all of the reasons why that happens, but by extending the period and giving voters an opportunity on the weekend, we're doing everything we can to encourage people to vote."

Democrats began pursuing a constitutional amendment after the state's highest court struck down the General Assembly's 2006 early voting measure, ruling that the body didn't have the constitutional authority to make such changes.

Yesterday, Republicans assailed the proposed amendment, which requires the approval of three-fifths of both legislative chambers, on fiscal grounds.

Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican, said that the state already has early voting. Voters can request absentee ballots in person at an elections office or through the mail without giving a reason -- a far cheaper method of increasing convenience, he argued.

If the amendment garners the necessary support in the Assembly, the question would be added to the 2008 ballot. If voters back the measure, lawmakers would need to craft legislation outlining the specifics, such as the number of days and hours of early voting. The Senate will resume debate Tuesday, the same day the House of Delegates is expected to start debate on the amendment.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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