Vote communication faulted

State task force delivers report on ballot irregularities

April 30, 2008|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun Reporter

State and local election boards need to communicate better, Maryland needs more voting machines and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler should set up a hot line to take reports of voter intimidation and other irregularities, a task force concluded yesterday.

Members of the task force, commissioned by Gansler, said they want to avoid a repeat of the 2006 gubernatorial primary, in which some voters, notably those at a Prince George's County church, waited as long as three hours to vote.

Others were turned away by the unexpected closure of polling places and a lack of election judges.

Task force members said they also heard reports of "voter suppression and intimidation," such as phone calls informing voters of the wrong day or polling place to vote in the primary or asking them to take identification, which is not required in Maryland.

"We know we're going to have historical turnouts" in the November election, Gansler said, noting the record number of voters in many states in the presidential primaries. "People need to have confidence in the integrity and reliability of the machines."

Many of the difficulties in the 2006 primary have been traced to the rollout of electronic voting machines.

Widespread problems with them were not repeated in the 2006 general election or this year's presidential primary.

Sherrilyn A. Ifill, a civil rights lawyer and professor at the University of Maryland law school who co-chaired the task force, said many of the problems were "human," such as the lack of communication between local election boards and the state, specifically dealing with how many voting machines were necessary.

The report calls for a process by which local election boards have to communicate in writing any disagreements with the state board.

"There needs to be greater transparency and communication between the local boards and the state board," she said, noting several instances in which polling places had too few machines, leading to long lines that caused some voters to leave.

The report also calls for better means to educate voters on how to use the machines and on how provisional ballots are counted, as well as more extensive education outreach to felons, to whom the state returned the right to vote last year.

Ifill said this report was the first of two the task force would issue. Yesterday's report deals with problems the task force members believe "can be fixed" before November's election.

The study group has 13 members from both parties and from across the state. They met with local elections boards and held town hall meetings about the issues they examined.

Gansler said the more serious problem of voter suppression was one he hoped to handle through a hot line in his office and legislation that will be proposed in next year's General Assembly session.

The efforts to discourage predominantly African-Americans from voting in Baltimore City and Prince George's County reminded him of historic and infamous efforts, largely in Southern states, to disenfranchise minorities through "literacy tests" or a poll tax, he said.

State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat, was one of several prominent Democratic candidates falsely identified as supporting former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele's candidacy for U.S. Senate in a campaign flier distributed in Baltimore.

Gladden said that legislation dealing with voting issues, including those to be addressed in the task force's second report, will be "very likely" to receive favorable consideration by lawmakers next year.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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