- The Washington Times - Monday, October 25, 2004

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are handing out informational cards to thousands of voters so they know their rights at the polls on Nov. 2.

The “voter empowerment” cards tell people, for example, that most poll workers will ask voters for identification, but voters are not required to show identification. Instead, they can sign an affirmation-of-identity form.

Also, voters have a right to fill out a conditional ballot if they accidentally go to the wrong polling location. It will be determined later whether the voter was properly registered and the vote is to be counted.

Voters who moved after the election last year but failed to register in their new precincts have the right to return to their old precincts to vote.

“Many people get turned down on Election Day because of a mistake made by a registrar or because they don’t know how to assert the rights they have at the poll,” said Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia.

The cards include the ACLU’s hot-line number. Voters who call on Election Day can reach a lawyer in case they have problems at the polls.

The free, pocket-size cards also were distributed to organizations such as voters’ rights groups and the state Democratic and Republican parties.

“We are concerned that some voters are turned away from the polls because they are not fully aware of their rights under Virginia law,” said King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the NAACP in Virginia. “Voters with the empowerment card in their hands will know their rights and be able to assert them on Election Day.”

• Bar hopping

A Democratic get-out-the-vote drive last week in Virginia aimed to hit young voters where some of them are most comfortable — in bars.

The “Pub Krawl for Kerry,” sponsored by Virginia 4 Kerry on Thursday, was meant to reach young voters to tell them it is important that they get to the polls and vote for Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry. From 6 to 11 p.m., volunteers went to local happy hours in Ballston.

Press releases announcing the drive noted that literature was targeted at the 20- to 35-year-old demographic but also mentioned voting statistics for 18- to 24-year-olds.

The drinking age in Virginia is 21.

“Young voters, who usually lean Democratic, could play a critical role in the 2004 election,” the release said.

• Schaefer’s stance

Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer is trying to make peace with advocates of AIDS patients after angering many with some recent remarks.

Mr. Schaefer also is toning down the comments that got him into trouble in the first place. Two weeks ago, the Democratic comptroller proposed a public registry of people infected with the AIDS virus.

But Friday, Mr. Schaefer said he is not asking for a registry for everyone. He said he was suggesting only that people who “intentionally try to give AIDS to someone” should be identified publicly so potential victims would know who they are.

Mr. Schaefer said he met Thursday with representatives of a coalition of organizations that work with people suffering from AIDS and that it was a good meeting.

• Dire predictions

Budget cuts, mass firings and legislative gridlock are the dire predictions from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan if voters approve three proposals on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Mr. Duncan’s strongest criticism is for a proposal that would prevent the County Council from overriding a property-tax cap.

Mr. Duncan said if it passes, the county would have to cut $94 million from its $3.3 billion budget. He said that cut would mean the loss of 1,000 teaching positions and hundreds of police and firefighter jobs.

Mr. Duncan urged voters to reject term limits on council members and the county executive and a plan to eliminate four at-large council seats.

Supporters of the proposals said Mr. Duncan is resorting to scare tactics.

• Chamber warning

With the legislature’s top two Democrats in the audience, officials of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce put lawmakers on notice Wednesday that they will work to defeat legislators who have an anti-business voting record.

The higher level of scrutiny will begin when the legislature votes on whether to override Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s vetoes of bills from the 2004 legislative session that were opposed by business, said William R. Roberts, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.

Legislators who vote to override the vetoes “will be identified to our members,” he said.

Terry F. Neimeyer, vice chairman of the business group, said the chamber will reinstitute its political action committee and appealed for donations from business leaders.

“We have great interest in supporting our friends,” Mr. Neimeyer said. “We want to have an impact on the 2006 election.”

He said the chamber will support the re-election of lawmakers who get a score of at least 80 percent on an annual rating of senators and delegates compiled by Maryland Business for Responsive Government. The chamber will work to defeat anyone scoring 50 percent or less, he said.

No Democrats reached the 80 percent mark in cumulative scores on the most recent report card, issued after the 2004 session, but 24 of 98 House Democrats and 10 of 33 Democratic senators scored above 50 percent.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, who appeared in a panel discussion in Cambridge about the coming legislative session, were both in the middle range between 50 percent and 80 percent, where the chamber might remain neutral.

• A different race

Two years ago, Democrat Chris Van Hollen Jr. defeated incumbent Constance A. Morella in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, ending the Republican’s 16 years in the House of Representatives.

Mr. Van Hollen agreed with Mrs. Morella, a moderate, on many issues, and much of the race became a referendum on which party should control Congress.

In his first campaign as an incumbent, Mr. Van Hollen is facing a far different opponent.

On Thursday in Rockville, he sparred with Republican challenger Charles Floyd on many issues in their fourth and final debate.

Mr. Floyd accused Mr. Van Hollen of being too liberal — even for Montgomery County — and not aggressive enough in trying to protect the United States from terrorism.

Mr. Van Hollen noted his accomplishments in Congress, including efforts to secure more money for education. He said he has done his best to fight for the values of the community.

• Two more years

Ocean City Mayor Jim Mathias was elected to a fifth two-year term Tuesday in a tightly contested race for the town’s highest office. He defeated Vince Gisriel, a longtime council member who entered the mayor’s race last month.

Mr. Mathias received 55 percent of the vote.

“There was a lot on the table here,” Mr. Mathias, 53, said after the results were announced.

Voters, he said, made key decisions about the mayor’s office, the Town Council and a tax rate cap proposal, which was narrowly defeated. They were sending the council “a message about affordability,” he said.

“There was a tremendous amount of city governance performed here. I hear them,” said the mayor, who owns a retail store in the resort town.

Mathias supporter Mark Odachowski said, “Ocean City will remain Ocean City for a few more years.”

Mr. Gisriel, who resigned his council seat to run, said he will take some time to relax but would remain involved in the town.

All four Town Council incumbents running were re-elected , and retired police officer Jay Hancock won a seat on the Council. Fourteen candidates ran for the five open seats. Turnout was 50 percent of the registered voters, with 3,034 persons casting ballots during the 12 hours polls were open.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire-service reports.

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