Of the more than 2,000 University of Maryland students who voted at Stamp Student Union and Ritchie Coliseum Tuesday, at least 350 had to cast provisional ballots. On Wednesday, a voter question hotline received twice as many calls from Prince George's County than from any other county in the state. Something is wrong with voting in our community. The question is:How can we fix it?
The problem could be local. While voting proceeded smoothly statewide, Prince George's County saw some of the state's worst lines -- voters at a Bowie church waited in line for four hours -- and the large discrepancies in wait times at polling places in the College Park community suggest local precinct boundaries could be redrawn. But even more troubling was the mass number of students who had to cast provisional ballots because their information was not processed in time. On one hand, it's hard to blame board of elections officials for struggling to manage the unprecedented flood of new registrations they received. Yet the fact still remains that more than 15 percent of students who voted at Stamp and Ritchie were forced to vote provisionally.
Of course, another statewide measure that passed easily this year could remedy some of this confusion. On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot referendum tomake early voting inMaryland constitutional. If approved by the General Assembly, this policy would open the polls two weeks before election day and allow voters to cast absentee ballots without specifying a reason. Allowing people to vote early will certainly put a dent in those hour-plus lines, and for students with stacked schedules, it would mean class would never have to get in the way of voting.
Still, early voting would not address the mess with registration. Many students who had registered on time were not added to the county voter rolls, and many students who made mistakes in their registration said they were never notified.
Hiring more elections workers and moving up the registration deadline seem like easy fixes to the problem, but a broader solution lies within the realm of national politics. A bill to enact Election Day registration is stalled in two congressional committees. The bill would mandate states to allow citizens to register to vote at their polling place on Election Day. Seven states -- Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming -- have already instituted this policy, and they all see some of the highest turnout rates in the country. Experts say Election Day registration could affect young voters most, predicting it would increase their turnout by as much as 14 percent.
While the bill's detractors say it would compound long lines at the polls and increase voter fraud, we find both those claims are baseless. New voters could queue up in their own lines, not affecting pre-registered voters. And with requirements to provide ID and valid proof of residency, Election Day registration would be no more susceptible to fraud than most states' current systems. So the real question boils down to why shouldn't institute Election Day registration? It's the most direct way to open up the polls to the most people. And in a democracy built for the people, by the people, of the people, isn't that the point?