By MICHELLE JANAYE NEALY
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A bill that would extend early voting to the Sunday before Election Day and double the number of early voting centers was taken up Thursday by the House Ways and Means committee.
Long lines that caused Maryland voters to wait hours at polling stations on Election Day prompted lawmakers to seek solutions.
“We need to make sure that there is early voting the Sunday before the election. We also need to increase the number of early voting centers so that for the general election, at least, people don’t have to wait in such long lives,” Baltimore Democratic Delegate Samuel Rosenberg said during a committee hearing.
“We were ranked the third-longest wait on Election Day. That’s not an honor we want to maintain,” he added.
Maryland currently allows early voting over a six-day period and sets the early voting hours as 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on all days but Sunday, when they are noon to 6 p.m.
If passed, the bill would give voters a total of nine days to vote and double the number of early voting centers in every jurisdiction for the general election. It would leave the decision to increase voting centers for primaries to the State Board of Elections and the local elections boards in each county.
Supporters of the legislation told the House committee that increasing the number of early voting centers and early voting days would ensure that more voters could access the polls, including minorities who historically have met challenges when accessing the polls.
But opponents said that increasing the number of poll centers and workers creates an unnecessary budgetary strain and more work for poll workers. Dissenters also argued that counties should be allowed to decide whether or not they should increase the number of polling places necessary for an election.
Delegate Kathy Afzali, a Frederick County Republican, said, “My concern is that we are overcompensating for an election that had an unusually large turnout.”
According to the Maryland State Board of Elections, nearly 430,000 residents voted early in the 2012 presidential election.
“Looking at the past two election cycles, early voting nearly doubled from 6.3 percent in 2010 to 11.7 percent in 2012. That trend will continue,” Rosenberg said.
In recent weeks, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley has also proposed legislation to increase the number of early voting days from six to eight and to allow people to register at the polls just before they vote early.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)