Friday, August 11, 2006

Maryland Judge Strikes Down Democrat-Only Early Voting

The Washington Post reports on a recent development of the Democrat-controlled Maryland legislature's attempt to create early voting just for Democrats:

An Anne Arundel County judge invalidated Maryland's early voting laws... in an opinion that could substantially alter the political tactics used by campaign teams across the state this fall.

Circuit Court Judge Ronald Silkworth ruled that it would be illegal for Maryland elections officials to open polling stations during the week before Election Day because the state constitution strictly sets the timing of elections. The 2005 and 2006 laws also improperly permitted voters to cast ballots outside their precincts, he wrote.

"This court finds that the General Assembly exceeded its constitutional authority in enacting the early voting statutes," wrote Silkworth, a Democratic appointee whose ruling favors Republicans in one of the State House's most partisan disputes.

Silkworth agreed to stay the decision until the case could be heard on appeal by the state's highest court, probably before the Sept. 12 primary. State election officials said they will continue to prepare for voting to start as early as Sept. 5.


Republican lawmakers said they had warned Democrats that in their view, passing early voting laws would require amending the constitution, much as the legislature did when it allowed for absentee voting.


Yesterday, [Maryland Governor] Ehrlich [said] he might have supported the concept of extending voting hours, or even opening polls for "two or three days."

But he said he was appalled by the Democrats' bill, which spelled out 21 addresses where polls must be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the week leading up to Election Day and also enhanced the power of the state elections administrator, a Democratic appointee, to oversee actions of local election officials appointed by Republicans.

The court ruling -- as did the one striking down a law requiring Wal-Mart to provide health benefits to its workers -- helps him convey his message that the legislature has "overreached," he said.

As we reported back in April, the plan was developed by Democrats to give special voting rights only to Democrats to help elect Democrats. The court's ruling is only the start of what is wrong with it.

Update, Aug. 12: The Washington Times also reports:

"The sanctity of Maryland elections must not be eroded for the sake of one party's political advantage," Mr. Ehrlich said. "Nonetheless, I remain supportive of the concept of early voting and look forward to working with Maryland lawmakers next year to craft a sensible and nonpartisan approach ... to ensure that Maryland conducts fair, accessible and accurate elections."

The early-voting law is the third law passed this year over Mr. Ehrlich's veto that has been struck down by the courts.


The state's electoral process has been a frequent point of contention between Mr. Ehrlich and lawmakers, beginning with legislature's intervention in 2003 to save the job of [Linda H. Lamone, administrator of the State Board of Elections], the state's longtime top election official under Democratic administrations.

The governor also clashed with the legislature in his failed push to require a paper record of votes cast on the state's new touch-screen voting machines.

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