As a nation celebrated the birth and tireless efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr yesterday, watching history in the making as America's first black president got sworn-in with the bible used by the slain civil rights leader; state legislatures like Maryland's should continue the efforts perpetuated by the voting rights activist, by expanding protection at the polls.
Last week, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley introduced his legislative agenda that in part looked to expand early voting polling sites and their hours/days, based in large part to the long lines and waiting time experienced in November's General Election – which saw an extremely popular Presidential contest and up-to 20 ballot questions in locations like Baltimore City.
His plan would extend early voting days from six to eight, increasing the number of hours voters have to cast an early ballot; as well as increasing the number of early voting locations to jurisdictions that meet a certain threshold of registered voters (approximately 64,200 voters per voting location), increasing early voting locations in Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties – but ignoring other large localities such as Baltimore City, who had the second most questions on the ballot this past fall and some of the longest waiting lines at the polls.
“We are calling on the Baltimore City delegation to offer an amendment that the city should have an increase in early voting polling sites, provided we can reach the 400,000 voter threshold by next year (currently having 396,277 voters),” says Marvin 'Doc' Cheatham, the voter empowerment chair and lobbyist for the Maryland State NAACP. “A great suggestive site could be Frederick Douglass High School, which is in walking distance to Mondawmin Mall, multiple public transit sites and also has the largest number of registered voters throughout the city.”
The Governor is also looking to allow for same-day voter registration during Early Voting only, for those who were either never registered or who simply need to change their address and/or voting precinct; which also should be amended to allow for same-day change of party affiliation – especially since the two-party system in Maryland locks Independent and third party voters out of the most crucial election in a democratic stronghold, the Primary Election.
The Governor's legislation would also allow for voters to apply for an absentee ballot online, permitting the person to print out the form, sign it and return it to the state board of elections; identical to the very thing the Governor railed against when Republicans used online technology to challenge democratically passed bills such as Gay Marriage, the Dream Act and a gerrymandered redistricting map last year.
As the changes in my humble opinion are encouraging and way past due, I believe that it doesn't go far enough in ensuring that the most sacred institution in America is highly protected and well received. In an age where voter fraud is highlighted on prime-time shows like 'Scandal', where Americans witness the well-funded billionaire businessman (Hollis Doyle) rig a presidential election with a simple phone call and some tampering with almost the same exact electronic voting system used in Maryland and other states; it would serve this legislature well to include an amendment that includes voter protection provisions to ensure the most fair and balanced election process in the country.
Currently, the state's voting machines are not equipped to produce 'paper-trails' that issue a receipt to voters of who they cast their ballot for, which is something the Maryland General Assembly's House of Delegates passed in March 2006 by an overwhelming vote margin of 137-0. The Diebold touchscreen systems that the state invested $90 million into, was at the center of this heated electoral debate that had a vast majority of legislators preferring the state invest in a new-aged optical-scan system that produced verifiable ballot receipts.
'When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.' ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
However, while that legislation eventually turned the bill into a 'study', it never produced the results most voters believe it should have; thus leaving us vulnerable to voter hacking and election scams unknown to those outside the 'inner-circle' of people controlling that information. Therefore, any discussion regarding 'voter protection' or the issuance of a system that satisfies voters, should also include voter verification tools such as paper-receipts to restore voter confidence and silence the minority who believe there to be some sort of voter conspiracy controlling the outcomes of federal, state and local elections.
Also, state legislators should have no problem addressing another 'voter verification' tool, known as Voter ID laws; that require any registered voter to produce proof that he or she is the person they say they are; thereby also eliminating any doubt that voter fraud is widespread. Since the federal Real ID law already requires some form of federally approved identification to enter government buildings, and requires that everyone in the great state of Maryland (and throughout the country) have some form of photo identification by December 1, 2017; then it shouldn't be an issue to have a voter produce some sort of identification upon entering the most sacred ground known to Americans – the voting booth.
The hypocrisy of a Party that would highlight that there is no need for such requirements, even after one of their own party members running for federal office got caught voting in two separate states; is the biggest political folly outside the *petition-technology debate, as it doesn't discriminate against anyone if everyone is required by law to have these documents anyway? In fact, since a federal database is set to check for warrants of criminals, imposed on any driver or pedestrian stopped by law enforcement; the same federal database should be set-up to weed out individuals with multiple names, addresses and voter cards.
I seriously doubt that any law-abiding voter, who took the time to go to the polls – and possibly waited for upwards of an hour or more to cast their ballot – would be offended by having to prove who they are to participate in this country's most sacred right? In fact, most people I come across, including my mother, are surprised that they don't have to produce any form of identification, including their voting card.
Dr. King rallied for the rights of ALL people, to be equal beyond skin color, race or ethnicity, and did not discriminate when it came to ensuring the right to vote; but would almost certainly be rolling over in his grave to see such hypocrisy in allowing just anyone to vote without verification after he so diligently worked to eliminate such barriers for law-abiding citizens. There is no doubt that there are certain states and members of both parties that would like nothing more than to take us back to those days of excluding black participation in the election process, I have zero doubt about that; but to use the argument that black people somehow are too poor or ignorant to have a mandated ID flies in the face of what Dr. King stood for.
How ironic is it that the Governor, who once insisted that the laws surrounding *voter petition efforts be strengthened and increased, rallying against the voter technology used by Republican Delegate Neil Parrott's MDPetitions.com that saw democratically passed laws placed on the ballot through innovative technology; now insists on a program that allows for the same exact technology to be used for absentee balloting? You cannot have your technology and use it to Mr. Governor!
In fact, it is this type of political double-talk/hypocrisy that enrages voters on both sides of the aisle, including those right in the middle (Independents and third party voters); and makes them weary of trusting governmental officials to be in charge of such long-lasting and impactful processes like voting and redistricting. When you are allowing for voters to change their information on the day of voting, increasing the number of days and machines of voting and giving voters an online presence which is long overdue; you open the door for possible voter deception, and therefore must also look to protect the system from fraud and irregularities - whether they currently exist or not?
It would be commendable if this body of legislators could get past their own political party egos, and work to ensure the best possible voting system without the fear of exclusion or voter intimidation. Everyone should be included in this discussion; Republicans, Democrats and even Independents/Third Party voters, all of whom offer different perspectives on the needs of their base.
Extending early voting, both the sites and the days, in my opinion is always a good thing – especially since Maryland's early voting days are one of the most restrictive in the country; and offering new technology that gives the 21st century voter the ability to access such things as voter registration and absentee ballot forms, along with voter petition forms, is a no-brainer in an age of social and new media.
As an advocate of Open Primaries - pushing state legislation for years now - I'd be somewhat satisfied with the process of allowing party affiliation changes during early voting, and even on Election Day; so long as those overseeing the process be politically diverse, ensuring for the most fair and balanced electoral system in the country, that voters can take pride in – not be skeptical of.
And since the NAACP has seemingly taken on the task of ensuring that Baltimore City voters reach the 400,000 threshold by next year, the Governor should also look at adding an extra site to this locality, as well as Anne Arundel and Howard Counties; as the current make-up looks purely political in focusing on only half of the state's Big 6 going into the statewide elections of 2014 – seemingly the jurisdictions that could better assist the Governor's endorsed candidates?
"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the the narrow [political] confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity...For every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness...As injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and a [voting] right delayed is a right denied!” - MLK quotes
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