Ehrlich panel will weigh voting changes
Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005
by Thomas Dennison Maryland Business Gazette
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has appointed an election reform commission to review and make recommendations on several voting standards, including adding a paper receipt to Maryland touch-screen voting machines.
The commission follows Ehrlich?s vetoes of several voting-related bills passed this year by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
Ehrlich, a Republican, said the nine-member commission is bipartisan and made up of non-legislators to consider several changes to Maryland?s election system. The panel will study absentee voting requirements, whether voters can cast their ballots before Election Day and adding a paper receipt to Maryland?s electronic voting machines.
??This eminently qualified, bipartisan commission can help strike an important balance between voter access and voter integrity in Maryland elections,? Ehrlich said in a statement Monday.
Paper receipts have been the focus of several advocacy groups, but efforts have been stymied by resistance from the state board of elections and potential multimillion-dollar costs.
The commission, to be chaired by Baltimore Republican George Beall, is tasked with making recommendations in time for the General Assembly session, which begins in January. The panel also includes former state Sens. Melvin A. ??Mickey? Steinberg and James C. Simpson, both Democrats and Ehrlich allies.
Frances Hughes Glendening, executive assistant and legal⁄policy adviser for the Federal Election Commission, is on the commission. She is the ex-wife of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D).
Some advocates were not impressed by the governor?s panel.
Jamie Kendrick, executive director of the Service Employees International Union, Maryland chapter, called it ??too little, too late.?
??If Governor Ehrlich is really interested in guaranteeing Marylanders their right to vote, he will allow his vetoes to be overridden, then engage in a constructive dialogue with legislators and voting rights advocates and experts,? Kendrick said.
Meanwhile, House Ways and Means Chairwoman Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring said Friday that her committee is working an ??omnibus elections bill? that will address many of the same issues.
Hixson said that the legislature has taken the lead on voting issues and that any bill crafted in her committee is likely to be vetoed.
There is some speculation that the bill could be a vehicle for Democrats to move up next year?s primary election from September to June.
Despite pressure from Maryland Democrats on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis has said he is not enthusiastic about moving the primary, noting opposition from key members of the House Democratic caucus.