We have serious problems with our election law. We have a dysfunctional system, as made manifest during the 2006 primary in Montgomery County when balloting was delayed for three hours, as well as during the ultimately futile attempt in 2008 to petition to referendum Montgomery County’s civil rights law. We have had a number of other referenda on the ballot since then, particularly Marriage Equality, the Dream Act, gambling expansion and redistricting. Lack of communication between the state and local boards of election, inadequate funding and staffing of our local board, an unresponsive state board, and an election code that remains way too vague and too easy to game in an undemocratic manner, can create a comedy of errors which puts people’s lives at risk.
Unlike California, where referenda sprout like mushrooms each fall, often designed more to advance a narrow, repressive agenda than to improve democracy, Maryland has more stringent requirements to put an issue to the voters. Unfortunately, our supreme court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, has loosened the referendum rules to a farcical degree, ruling that people can adequately witness their own signatures and swear to their validity.
I support a rewriting of the election statutes to clarify and tighten the rules and standards which allow our representative democracy to flourish, modeled on Delegate Luedtke’s 2013 Referendum Integrity bill. I believe civil rights should never be put to a vote, and support a constitutional amendment to that effect. Passage of the Dream Act and marriage equality does not obviate the inherently offensive act of putting human rights to a majority vote.
We should continue to lead on election law reform, in the spirit of Maryland state Senator Raskin’s co-sponsorship instituting the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement, once the number of states signed on exceed 270 electoral votes, to elect the President based on the final national popular vote tally, rather than using the current electoral college system. Maryland can also do its part in moving the country closer to universal voter registration. Many countries reach the 90% level, while we fall short. We have instituted simple fixes which include switching to an opt-out provision while registering at the MVA, early voting and vote-by-mail, and early registration for 16 and 17-year-olds who apply for their first driver’s license. We should also allow Election Day Registration. We must upgrade our systems to allow for paper trail audits, an upgrade already approved by the legislature but not acted upon by the state board until very recently. And we should considered fairer preferential voting systems, such as instant-runoff voting (IRV), a very useful system to ensure that the winner in a multi-candidate race receives a majority of the votes cast.