Petition Drive Begins
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. began moving forward yesterday with a petition drive aimed at undoing plans for early voting in the fall elections.
The governor's 2006 campaign team, led by campaign manager Bo Harmon, began handing out petitions drawn up along standards set by the attorney general's office. The team is working under the name Marylanders for Fair Elections.
The petition drive, if successful, would ask the state's voters to overturn a 2005 law that allows voting during the week leading up to Election Day and a 2006 law that identifies where polling places will be and orders that they stay open 13 hours a day.
Petitioning legislation onto the ballot has occurred rarely in Maryland. For Ehrlich (R) to prevail, his campaign team would have to collect 51,185 valid signatures by June 30 and overcome a recent legal opinion by the attorney general's office, which asserted that the petition drive needed to occur last year to get on the ballot this fall.
Ehrlich's stated objection to early voting is that it invites fraud.
But Democrats point out that Ehrlich has much to fear from a voting schedule designed to drive up turnout. In a state where Democrats have nearly twice as many voters on the rolls as Republicans, any move to increase Election Day (or election week) turnout probably will work against the governor.
With each party eager for an edge and the law murky about whether a successful petition drive would suspend plans for early voting this year, officials are expecting the matter to wind up in court.
"There's going to be a lawsuit from somebody no matter what happens," said Robert A. Zarnoch, the assistant attorney general who advises the legislature on legal matters.
One complicating factor is that much of the responsibility for approving petitions and placing measures on the ballot falls to Secretary of State Mary D. Kane, who happens to be married to GOP Chairman John Kane.
That fact alone distresses Democrats.
"This is a Republican-initiated venture, so if this lands on the desk of the secretary of state, I would expect her to recuse herself," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). "I mean, considering who she's married to, I would think that would only be proper."
Mary Kane did not respond to a message left in her office on Friday.
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