House passes early polling amendment

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

February 17, 2007

A state constitutional amendment that would give the General Assembly the power to open polls several days before an election easily passed the House of Delegates yesterday.

By a 101-31 mostly partisan vote, delegates agreed to amend the Maryland Constitution to permit early voting over objections from Republicans that the bill needs greater safeguards against election fraud.

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the minority whip from Southern Maryland, said Republicans will try again when the chamber reconciles differences between its legislation and the version that is moving forward in the Senate.

"Some of us were trying to get to a point where we had a higher level of confidence in terms of early voting," he said. "Many of us have not been able to get there, unfortunately."

Republican proposals have included limiting the number of days for early voting, requiring voters to cast ballots only in their home counties or requiring voters to show identification at the polls.

If the measure passes the Senate, which is expected to take up the matter for a final vote next week, the question of whether Marylanders want early voting will be placed on the 2008 ballot.

Republicans have accused Democrats in the past of pushing early voting to give them an unfair political advantage.

The theory is that any additional convenience for voters would benefit Democrats because they outnumber Republicans in the state.

Del. Sheila E. Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat who is chairwoman of the committee that handles voting issues, said there is no partisan motivation behind the bill.

"We are giving the people the right to choose, to give us direction on this issue," she said. "Simple, clear-cut, no hidden agenda."

Melissa Harris and Andrew A. Green

O'Malley taps Wiedefeld to lead transit administration

The O'Malley administration has tapped Paul J. Wiedefeld, the former top executive at BWI Marshall Airport, to head the Maryland Transit Administration.

Wiedefeld, who has been working in the private sector since 2005, is another top hire of the Glendening administration to be recruited for a new tour of duty under O'Malley.

The announcement was made by acting Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari, who hired Wiedefeld for the airport job in 2002 during Porcari's previous term as head of the department.

While serving as chief executive of the Maryland Aviation Administration under then-Govs. Parris N. Glendening and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., he managed the airport's $1.8 billion expansion.

He succeeds Lisa Dickerson, an Ehrlich administration appointee who stepped down last week.

Besides his tenure at the airport, Wiedefeld has experience in mass transit. Porcari noted that Wiedefeld has recently been involved in studies of two important Maryland mass transit proposals: the east-west Red Line through Baltimore and an extension of the Washington Metro's Green Line from Greenbelt to BWI.

Since leaving the airport job, Wiedefeld has been a senior vice president with the international transportation consulting firm PB.

Michael Dresser

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