Maryland Civil Rights Organizations Seek Extended Deadline for Absentee Ballots

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
November 4, 2006 12:00 am

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Coalition Concerned by State Board of Elections’ Reluctance to Act

BALTIMORE — Alarmed over the “unfolding catastrophe regarding undelivered absentee ballots,” a broad coalition of non-partisan civil rights groups has called on the state Board of Elections to extend the deadline for mailing those ballots. The concerns and call were expressed in a letter sent to state elections officials, legislative leaders, and Governor Robert Ehrlich on Friday.

Spurred by calls from candidates and elected officials to vote via absentee ballot rather than on the new electronic voting machines, and due to widespread problems with voting machines and election judges on primary day this year, local election boards have received an extraordinarily high number of requests for absentee ballots – more than 188,000 as of Friday. Unfortunately, many of the ballots have not been sent out in a timely manner, with some counties not finishing their mailings until Friday or Saturday, which is only one or two business days prior to the election.

As a result, potentially thousands of Maryland voters may be disenfranchised because they will not receive their ballots in time to have the ballots postmarked by the current Monday, November 6 deadline. A voter’s only other option is to hand deliver it to the local elections board office on Tuesday, November 7, by the close of the polls at 8 p.m., something that many voters may be unable to do.

“Extending the deadline for mailing absentee ballots is easily accomplished, and imposes no administrative burden on state or local election officials,” said David Rocah, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland. “Legislative leaders have indicated their willingness to act expeditiously on a request for emergency regulatory authority by the board, so the sole impediment to taking this simple step to enfranchise thousands of voters is the apparent reluctance of some members of the state Board of Elections to act.”

The coalition is calling on the board to enact emergency regulations extending the deadline for mailing absentee ballots until Tuesday, November 7, Election Day (the ballots would have to be postmarked by November 7). In addition, the coalition calls on the board to allow voters to return the absentee ballots to their regular polling place, rather than requiring them to travel to a potentially distant local board of elections office (which will be impossible for many elderly, homebound or traveling Marylanders).

“State officials promised voters that absentee ballots were the safe, easy, and reliable option and thousands of Marylanders took them at their word,” said Ben Blustein, an attorney for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. “Without immediate action by the board, however, those same voters may now lose their fundamental right to vote. The state’s officials, from the Board of Elections to the Governor, have a duty to honor this promise.”

The Election Protection Coalition is urging voters who have submitted timely requests for absentee ballots, but have not yet received them, to call the coalition’s toll-free hotline (1-866-OUR-VOTE, or 866-687-8683) to report their situation in case legal action can be taken.

Voters who do not receive their absentee ballots in time for the election may still, if they are physically able, vote by provisional ballot at their regular polling place instead of mailing in an absentee ballot after the election.

The Maryland Election Protection Coalition is part of the nation’s largest non-partisan voter protection coalition helping to ensure that all eligible voters have an opportunity to cast a ballot, and to have that vote counted. The Maryland coalition includes the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP, the ACLU of Maryland, People For the American Way Foundation, ACORN, and the National Bar Association, together with other local and national groups. Between now and Election Day, the coalition is operating the 1-866-OUR-VOTE toll-free hotline to assist voters, and is operating local command centers around the country to provide non-partisan legal support for local election protection activities (including sites in Baltimore and Washington, DC that will serve the state of Maryland).

The national ACLU Voting Rights Project will also maintain a toll-free hotline so voters can report voting rights violations and irregularities on Election Day. The hotline, 1-877-523-2792, will be in operation from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST.

For more information on the ACLU’s voter protection efforts, go to:

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