The Maryland Senate on Monday night passed Gov. Martin O’Malley’s bill to expand early voting and allow same-day registration.
The Senate voted 35-12 to approve Senate Bill 279, Election Law — Improving Access to Voting. The House version of the bill, House Bill 224, still awaits a vote in the House Ways and Means Committee. If passed in the House, the measure would give Marylanders two more early voting days. It would also allow people to register to vote and immediately cast ballots at early voting centers, and give them the opportunity to obtain absentee ballots online. Opponents of the bill raised concerns about the potential for voter fraud, suggesting the bill should be delayed until security can be improved. Proponents say the measure is a sound solution to a problem that caused long lines at early voting centers, depriving some of a chance to vote last fall.
Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, was the only Republican in the Senate to vote for the bill. He said he wants to get more people out to vote. “If you look at the registration of Democrats and Republicans, it probably helps Democrats more,” Simonaire said. “But my whole philosophy is it’s on principle to get people out and vote. That’s my logic.”
Senate Bill 279 would increase the number of early voting days from six to eight. Operating hours would also expand. This would raise costs by $150,700 at the state level and $1.2 million at the local level in 2014, according to an analysis by the Department of Legislative Services.
While Montgomery, Prince George’s, Frederick and Baltimore counties would get two more voting early voting centers under the bill, Anne Arundel County would continue to have five.
An amendment approved last week also gives officials in Allegany, Carroll, Charles, Dorchester, Garrett, Washington and Worcester counties the option of adding one extra early voting center.
The bill would also waive the requirement that a new voter — one who registers and votes on the same day — cast a provisional ballot to give election officials time to authenticate that person’s eligibility.
It takes 24 votes to pass a bill in the Senate. As the bill had 23 sponsors in the Senate before Monday’s vote, it was expected to pass.
But the House version of the bill has just 19 sponsors. It takes 71 votes to pass a bill in that chamber. At a hearing of House Bill 224 on Feb. 21, opponents raised concerns about voter fraud.