- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — After vetoing seven Democratic proposals to change Maryland election laws last spring, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday said he will set up a commission of non-legislators to review election rules and suggest changes.

Among the bills the governor vetoed were plans that would have allowed Marylanders to vote during the five days before primary and general elections, and a bill that would have created no-excuse absentee balloting to allow people to vote absentee even if they could make it to polls on Election Day.

In his veto message, Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, called the no-excuse absentee plan “an invitation for greater voter fraud.”

Mr. Ehrlich’s nine-person commission, however, will look at absentee voting and other potential changes, including early voting and a paper receipt to record votes cast on an electronic voting machine.

Its chairman, prominent Baltimore Republican George Beall, said he expects proposals will come out of the meetings, which begin tomorrow.

Mr. Beall said changes are needed in Maryland election laws, though he wouldn’t say specifically what should be changed.

The committee was not asked to consider new primary-election dates, which some Democrats have said should be moved.

“Perfect elections are not possible, but a reduction of voter distrust in the system is essential,” said Mr. Beall, son of former U.S. Sen. J. Glenn Beall Jr.

Democratic lawmakers were quick to shrug off Mr. Ehrlich’s commission, saying it’s too late to prepare substantive reforms for a session that starts in just over two months.

They also said lawmakers should be included if new bills are to be prepared.

“This is simply a public relations gambit to try to negate his vetoes of bills to allow additional access to the polls,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat.

Another Democrat, Delegate Obie Patterson of Prince George’s County, said the governor should explain why the vetoed bills shouldn’t simply be reconsidered.

Mr. Patterson sponsored a bill last year that would have ordered elections officials to study electronic balloting, especially a way to give voters paper records of their votes.

While Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell yesterday said the governor “is receptive” to the idea of paper records, Mr. Ehrlich vetoed Mr. Patterson’s bill in May, saying a study should be overseen by the governor, not the General Assembly.

Mr. Patterson said the governor was ignoring the bigger question, that of paper voting records.

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