By Justin Snow
Tensions were high once again this year as delegates on the House Ways and Means committee debated a bill that would require Maryland voters to present proof of identity at polling stations when voting.
Sponsored by Del. Nic Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, a similar bill has been introduced every legislative session since 2005. Each year, it has faced opposition largely from Democrats who believe such restrictions would disenfranchise certain voters.
Bill proponents believe such measures would help eliminate voter fraud in the state. Kipke believes this has not been adequately addressed or examined in Maryland.
“Our system that we currently have isn’t working,” Kipke said.
The bill would require that voters present a current government-issued photo ID, a voter notification card, or the sample ballot mailed by a local board of elections in order to vote. Those who refuse or are unable to would be required to vote on a provisional ballot. The ballot’s validity would be confirmed after the election, if no other person with that name had voted in the state.
The bill comes on the heels of a new study that has seen national headlines in recent days, touted by supporters as evidence that stricter voting laws are needed. Published by the Pew Center on the States, the study found that 2 million dead Americans remain on active voting rolls across the country and that 1 in every 8 registrations is invalid or contains inaccuracies.
Kipke also provided new research conducted by Election Integrity Maryland, a nonpartisan organization that works to ensure free and fair elections. An analysis of 7,000 Montgomery County voter registrations found that 5,400 registrations contained irregularities. Although some problems may be simple clerical errors, Cathy Kelleher, president of the organization, argued that they could lead malicious activity.
“Allowing any irregularities is opening a door to potential fraud,” said Kelleher.
Several delegates voiced opposition to the bill, claiming that it would disenfranchise younger and poorer voters who are less likely to have valid forms of identification.
“In the face of what I think is glaring lack of evidence, you’re trying to put barriers in the way of people’s constitutional right,” stated Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery.
Luedtke was also the target of some impassioned testimony from several Maryland residents, including one Owings Mills woman who was reprimanded by Chairwoman Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, for making personal comments about Luedtke. The woman vowed to call his office instead.
Kipke’s bill is similar to another bill sponsored by Del. Kathryn Afzali, R-Frederick, that will be considered by the committee in the coming weeks. Afzali’s bill would require the Motor Vehicle Administration to transmit physical information, including photos, from Maryland driver’s licenses to polling stations at an estimated cost of $400,000.
“I think it’s a small price to pay to have free and fair elections,” Afzali said. Kipke and Afzali are cosponsors of each other’s bills.