- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — The State Board of Elections yesterday certified nearly 40,000 signatures on a petition for a referendum that would bar early voting this fall.

Although an additional 60,000 valid signatures are needed to get the referendum on this year’s ballot, the issue looks likely to be decided in court.

“I have advised the organization that submitted the signatures that, upon advice of counsel, the [early voting] bill is not proper for a referendum,” state elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone said.

Marylanders for Fair Elections (MFFE), an ad hoc group based in Annapolis and backed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s re-election campaign, submitted the signatures May 30.

The group says allowing voting at certain precincts before Election Day creates the opportunity for voter fraud. Many Democrats have supported early voting — which is practiced in about 20 states — as a way to encourage greater participation among disadvantaged voters.

Mrs. Lamone said she intends to consult today with Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. before MFFE is allowed to submit a second batch of signatures.

“If the Attorney General’s Office says they’ve met the legal requirements, then they’re entitled to move ahead,” Mrs. Lamone said.

Mr. Curran, a Democrat who is retiring this year, has said that a petition to overturn a law can be filed only in the year the law is passed.

The Democrat-controlled General Assembly first passed the early-voting measure last year, but Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election, vetoed it.

The legislature overrode the veto earlier this year and enacted the law.

The Ehrlich administration contends that early voting became law this year, so the petition is valid.

“The assumption is, it will be in court somewhere along the way,” said Joseph Getty, a top Ehrlich adviser.

Democrats have accused Mr. Ehrlich of engaging in fraud, saying he is trying to suppress voter turnout in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.

“He is trying to perpetuate a great fraud on people’s minds by trying to say there is a problem,” said Terry Lierman, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party.

Mr. Lierman said concerns about electronic voter rolls, called “e-poll books,” are “a sham.”

“There’s no one that doesn’t say we’re ready,” he said.

But organizers at True Vote Maryland, a left-leaning grass-roots group opposed to electronic voting without a paper trail, said they are “very worried” about the state’s preparedness for early voting.

“I’m not comfortable that the technology is going to be ready this fall,” said Alex Zeese, an organizer for the group. “The e-poll books have never been tested or proven.”

Mr. Zeese said he had heard that the e-poll books, made by Diebold Inc. of Ohio, won’t be secure for 16 more months.

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