- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A partisan battle over the September primary and November general elections erupted in the state Senate yesterday as Democrats beat back a series of amendments that Republicans said would guard against fraud.

Democrats said the proposed changes would undermine Maryland’s efforts to increase voter turnout.

The debate was part of a continuing struggle over the coming elections that usually, but not always, divides the Senate and House of Delegates along party lines.

The Senate rejected a proposal that would have required voters to produce a photo ID before casting ballots this year and a proposal that would have repealed a new provision of the law allowing Marylanders for the first time to cast provisional ballots at polling places outside their home counties. Provisional ballots are counted only after they are checked to determine whether the person who is voting has registered.

The Senate also voted down an attempt by Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, Howard Republican, to require the state to use paper ballots for the 2006 elections, an issue that has drawn support of lawmakers from both parties. The House unanimously approved an identical bill to replace the state’s electronic touch-screen machines with optical scanners that record votes marked on paper ballots.

The Senate rejected that amendment at the request of Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, Baltimore County Democrat, who said her committee is working on legislation that it plans to bring up for debate Senate dealing with the voting-machine issue.

Much of the Senate debate dealt with the Republican attempt to require voters to show a photo ID.

“We are increasing access to the polls. Let’s just make sure the people who are voting are who they say they are,” said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Queen Anne’s Republican.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat and one of the black senators opposing Mr. Pipkin’s proposal, said she was “really frightened” by the photo ID requirement “given the attempts to suppress minority voting” that have occurred across the country.

She said she did not think Mr. Pipkin was trying to hold down the turnout of minority voters, who tend to give overwhelming support to Democrats, but is still fearful that his plan for a photo ID might be used to deny blacks the right to vote.

Noting that prospects are good for one or more close elections this year, Mr. Pipkin said: “We have to have the ability to show our voters that the elections were fair.”

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