- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

(AP)

A Maryland task force yesterday gave recommendations to address voting irregularities, in expectation of a large turnout in the November election and to avoid the big delays that occurred at some polling places during the 2006 primary.

The report to Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler gives 13 recommendations that can be implemented before November, including a process to help gauge the right number of voting machines for each precinct.

Mr. Gansler, speaking at Evangel Cathedral in Prince George’s County, recalled “snakelike” lines of voters at the church during the 2006 primary.

“This is America in the 21st century, yet it took three hours to exercise their franchise,” he said. “It reminded me of the days of literacy tests and poll taxes — obstacles to voting — to just merely exercise one of the most fundamental rights that we have in our democracy.”

The State Board of Elections makes recommendations to local elections boards on the number of voting machines for each precinct. Local boards have the final say.

The task force is recommending that local boards publicize three weeks before Election Day the number of voting machines they plan to use. If the number is fewer than that recommended by the state, the local board should provide a written explanation. Local boards also should define emergency procedures in case more machines are needed, the report said.

The report also cited a lack of uniformity in how local elections boards counted provisional ballots, which are offered at polling places to voters whose names do not appear on the register of eligible voters and who are first-time voters who cannot provide necessary identification.

“There needs to be uniformity in that process,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, a civil rights lawyer, a University of Maryland School of Law professor and co-chairwoman of the task force. “Local boards need to be educated, and local counsel for boards need to be on one accord with what the proper requirements of the law are regarding the counting of provisional ballots.”

In the 2006 primary, human errors and technical problems delayed voting in some of the state’s largest jurisdictions. Most of the problems were addressed in time for the general election that year.

Other recommendations in the task force report include:

• Improving training for elections officials.

• Arranging voting machines to safeguard voter privacy.

• Improving communication to polling sites, in case a court order extends voting hours.

• Boosting sensitivity among local elections officials to the appearance of voter intimidation.

• Raising awareness of needs for voters who are disabled.

• Improving voter awareness about ballot questions.

• Implementing a public education campaign on a change in the law last year allowing convicts who have completed their sentences to vote. The change affects an estimated 52,000 citizens.

The task force focused its report on issues that can be addressed by November. Another report with longer-term recommendations is expected to be released later this year. That report will include recommendations on how to address false or misleading campaign materials.

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