- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers just wrapped up an election season, but they might be talking about political campaigns long before their next races four years from now.

Democrats, who control the General Assembly, have mentioned several election-related matters that may come up in the legislative session that begins next week.

Early voting, paper records of ballots cast on electronic voting machines and new campaign rules are in the mix for consideration this session.

First up may be early voting. Democrats have passed bills in the past allowing Marylanders to vote 10 days before an election, even overriding a veto by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. But Maryland’s highest court ruled early voting illegal under the state constitution.

That means a constitutional amendment would be needed to bring early voting to Maryland.

Legislative leaders have said they would like to see such an amendment, which would require a three-fifths vote to pass both the House of Delegates and the Senate.

“There’s enough legislators who want to see this resolved for voters” to pass an amendment this term, House Speaker Michael E. Busch said.

Successful legislative passage of an amendment would set up a 2008 statewide referendum on the issue.

Another topic may be a question of how politicians campaign. Many Democrats were outraged at campaign tactics Republican Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele used in his failed bid for the U.S. Senate.

Just hours before polls opened, campaign workers distributed fliers around heavily black Prince George’s County falsely indicating that Mr. Steele, who is black, was endorsed by Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat and former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mr. Mfume had run in the Democratic primary against Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who defeated Mr. Steele for the seat.

“There is a line where you can’t mislead voters,” said Delegate Samuel I. Rosenberg, Baltimore Democrat, who plans to introduce an anti-fraud campaign bill.

Mr. Rosenberg acknowledged that it’ll be tough to set campaigning rules without treading on free-speech rights, and that Democrats have flirted with ethical lines themselves in the past.

“Nobody’s a virgin on this stuff,” he said, “but I think the things they did were beyond the pale.”

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party, Audra Miller, warned that lawmakers would face a formidable challenge in crafting a constitutional law regulating campaign language.

“You have politicians who have said they’ve done a lot of successful things in Annapolis, and that could be restricted,” she said.

Some Democrats said campaign language isn’t a priority.

“I think voters are really fed up,” said state Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, Charles County Democrat and chairman of the Finance Committee.

“I heard disgust, but I didn’t hear anybody say, ‘There ought to be a law.’ ”

Perhaps more likely to succeed over the next four years is a decision to add paper recording to the state’s Diebold Election Systems electronic voting machines.

Such a measure has been considered before, but now that elections officials have four years before the next statewide election, they may have more time to apply the change.

The idea has bipartisan support.

“The problem with the electronic voting machines is there is no way to recount any votes,” Miss Miller said.

Paper ballots or voting receipts” will give voters some semblance of assurance their vote was counted properly,” she said.

Mr. Busch said that some sort of nonelectronic backup is certain. “We will deal with a verifiable paper trail,” he said.

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