February 21, 2013
Testimony Before the Ways and Means Committee
HB 17 Election Law – Elective Franchise – Registration and Voting at Polling Places
Position: Maryland PIRG supports all efforts to expand the voting franchise. HB 17, which would allow Marylanders register to vote at the polls during the early voting period and on Election Day, would streamline the registration and voting process and engage our citizens more directly in their own governance.
Comments: Election Day registration has potential to increase voter turnout across the board. Under the existing regime, Marylanders who miss the registration deadline or who have moved since the last election and failed to update their address on their registration information are unable to vote. This is a practice that disenfranchises many voters, but can have an especially large impact on young voters and low-income voters, who may have to move more frequently for school or work and are unable to update their registration ahead of the deadline.
In 2004 only 60% of eligible voters participated in states with traditional voter registration. In states with Election Day Registration, 74% of eligible voters participated.
In Maryland, our student chapter at the University of Maryland College Park ran an effort to register 2,500 college students in the month leading up to the registration deadline in 2008. David Bransfield, one of the students running the registration drive, spent dozens of hours registering fellow students, double checking their forms, and turning them into the registrar. Of course, he made sure to register himself prior to the deadline, but when he got to the polls on Election Day it turned out that his application was never processed. He and a number of other students in his same situation had to cast provisional ballots, which were ultimately not counted in the election. David was not alone. During the 2000 Presidential election, nearly 3 million voters were disenfranchised due to registration problems.
Amending the Maryland constitution to allow Election Day registration will ensure that all Marylanders who are eligible to cast a ballot also receive the opportunity to do so, fulfilling the promise of our democratic principles.
Conclusion: HB 17 will strengthen our democracy by engaging more voters. Maryland PIRG urges a favorable report.