- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Maryland State Board of Elections yesterday said a petition for a referendum that would bar early voting has failed to get enough signatures.

The petition fell 138 signatures short of the 17,062 needed to put the referendum on November’s ballots, said Donna Duncan, deputy administrator of the elections board.

Thomas W. Roskelly, chairman of group that collected the petition signatures, demanded a public recount.

“This whole thing is being done in private,” said Mr. Roskelly, who learned of the signature shortfall from reporters. “Is politics involved in this whole process? The answer is: ‘You bet.’”

Election officials were recounting the signatures yesterday, and Mr. Roskelly will receive formal notice of the count today, Ms. Duncan said.

On Monday, the State Board of Elections reported it had certified nearly 40,000 signatures on the petition, which the Annapolis-based group Marylanders for Fair Elections submitted May 30.

The group says the early voting law enacted by Democratic-controlled General Assembly this year invites voter fraud. The law allows voting in certain precincts as early as five days before Election Day.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election this fall, vetoed the early voting legislation last year and supported the petition drive, citing the potential for voter fraud.

An Ehrlich spokesman yesterday declined to comment before the State Board of Elections makes a formal announcement about the petition’s status.

Democratic lawmakers overrode Mr. Ehrlich’s veto of the early voting measure during this year’s regular session.

Maryland Democratic Party spokesman David R. Paulson said he was not surprised the petition appears to have fallen short.

“The voters saw through the baseless accusations and rejected [the governor’s] effort to suppress voter turnout,” he said. “Maryland is joining the majority of other states in this country that have early voting programs to increase voter participation.”

Some form of early voting is conducted in more than 20 states.

Mr. Roskelly, who was told Monday that he had enough signatures, questioned the petition’s sudden reversal of fortune.

He noted that the signature shortfall was discovered a day after Democratic lawmakers held a press conference to criticize the petition effort.

“The confidence is kind of striking,” Mr. Roskelly said.

Maryland’s elections board has been a partisan battleground during Mr. Ehrlich’s tenure. Democratic lawmakers intervened to save the job of elections board Administrator Linda H. Lamone, whom Mr. Ehrlich was seeking to oust.

“There should be a public recount with every media outlet in the room while they do it,” Maryland Republican Party spokeswoman Audra Miller said.

Under state law, an act of the General Assembly becomes a ballot question if a petition is signed by 3 percent of the number of voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

The early-voting petition needed a total of 51,185 signatures.

The first third of the signatures — 17,062 — were due May 30. That portion of the petition appears to have come up short.

The remaining 34,123 signatures were due June 30, but a failure to submit the first batch disqualifies the effort.

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