A Federal District Court late last month wisely upheld a 2010 Maryland law that counts prison inmates as residents in their home communities for purposes of redistricting, rather than at the prisons where they are incarcerated. The practice of counting inmates as local “residents” — even though they lack the right to vote — has been used to inflate the power of mainly rural areas where prisons tend to placed. It undercuts the power of the urban districts where the inmates actually live and where they generally return when they are released.
Paul Schurick’s recent conviction for voter fraud is a sad coda to the 2010 Martin O’Malley-Bob Ehrlich gubernatorial rematch: Sad because Mr. Schurick tainted his reputation as one of the state’s best political strategists, and sadder because Governor O’Malley almost certainly would have been re-elected no matter what late-campaign shenanigans Mr. Schurick pulled.
But the saddest thing about Schurick’s conviction is that his actions are merely one small part of a larger and more systematic attempt by conservative strategists to find ways to suppress voter turnout in service to Republican partisan advantage. Unlike in the Schurick case, most such efforts are perfectly legal (though certainly unsavory).
Let’s take a quick tour of the voter-suppression activities under way across the nation. In the past year, 19 new laws and two executive orders were issued in 14 states to create stricter voter identification requirements. These measures were supported and passed largely by Republicans after gaining control of state legislatures and governors’ offices in 2010. Their aim is to constrict the electorate for 2012 and beyond.
The state of Maryland will be making a foolish choice if it decides to renege on its promise to replace our risky paperless touchscreen voting machines with a paper ballot, optical-scan voting system. The new voting system, with just one-fifth the equipment of the old one, would be much cheaper to operate and maintain. It would reinstill voter confidence by finally putting in place a safe, reliable voting system that records the votes as voters intended, and allows recounts to be conducted in close races. Maryland voters overwhelmingly favor a paper record of their votes and the transition to the new system is mandated by a law that passed the General Assembly unanimously in 2007. After years of debate and reams of data from computer security experts exposing a vast number of security vulnerabilities in touchscreen voting, as well as information from other states about the cost benefits of transitioning to optical scan voting, it appears that a well orchestrated effort has resurfaced at the 11th hour to mislead the Board of Public Works and others about the true costs of purchasing the new system versus the cost of trying to keep the old system on life support.