Following an election season marked by long lines and long ballots, Maryland lawmakers are confronting a flurry of bills aimed at tweaking the voting process. “Just after an election, everyone wants to make corrections,” said Del. Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Montgomery), chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, where 16 bills dealing with elections are scheduled to be heard Thursday. “We had a lot of long lines, so a lot of the bills are to fix logistical sort of stuff,” she said. “We also had five referendums on the ballot, more than ever before, so we want to make sure we clean it up, make sure those rules are fair.” One of the bills is from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration and would expand the days, hours and locations for early voting.
“A lot of this grew out of [Superstorm] Sandy, where we saw there was a desire for people to come and vote,” said O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory, referencing the October weather event that forced elections officials to close early-voting centers two of the six scheduled days. “This is about giving everybody a chance to participate.”
O’Malley’s bill allows Marylanders to register on the same day as they show up to vote, whether early or on Election Day. Counties also are required to have a certain number of early-voting centers, depending on the population. Counties with more than 450,000 registered voters would have to open eight centers. Currently, they are only required to have five.
Early voting also would run for a full week — from the second Thursday before all primary and general elections to the Thursday before the election — and centers would have to be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during presidential elections, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. for other elections.