Maryland voters to be automatically registered; other bills become law without Gov. Hogan's signature

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Maryland will join 10 other states and D.C. in automatically putting residents on the voting rolls when they get a driver's license, use a social services agency or buy insurance on the health exchange.

Gov. Larry Hogan let legislation to create the program become law without his signature on Thursday, and it will take effect next July, after the 2018 election.

Voters can decline to be registered. But advocates say the automatic voter registration program’s out-opt structure will end up getting more people registered than the current opt-in one.

Already, the Maryland Vehicle Administration and other state agencies offer residents the option of registering to vote. The new law will have state workers informing residents they will be registered to vote unless they decline. It also requires people who electronically file taxes to be offered an opportunity to register to vote.

State analysts said it is hard to predict how many more people would vote as a result of being automatically registered because the policies are relatively new. In 2015, Oregon became the first state adopt it. Officials there said 43 percent of automatically registered voters cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election.

The automatic voter registration bill was among a dozen the governor let become law without his signature on Thursday evening. These were the last of a handful of bills the Democrat-dominated General Assembly sent early to Hogan, a Republican, hoping to provoke his veto or signature before they left town next week.

Some of the other bills that will become law would:

  • create a pool of $5 million grant to help make sure Maryland’s residents are accurately counted in the 2020 U.S. Census.
  • levy a tax on estates worth $5 million or more when someone dies, creating a threshold lower than the federal government’s $11.4 million floor on estate taxes.
  • rename the Harry W. Nice Bridge in Southern Maryland to honor a Charles County senator who worked to get it replaced. It will be known in the future as the Harry W. Nice/Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge.
  • prevent the governor from circumventing the Senate approval process by withdrawing appointees from consideration and putting those people back in the same job with a recess appointment.
  • study whether to strip the authority to regulate alcohol from the state comptroller, a bill passed in response to Comptroller Peter Franchot’s advocacy for the craft beer industry.
  • create some new rules, backed by unions, that deal with collective bargaining and union contracts.
  • extend the time local governments have to repay income taxes collected in error, payments connected to a Supreme Court ruling.

The General Assembly remains in session until midnight on Monday, and lawmakers are rushing to resolve more than 1,000 outstanding bills before they adjourn for the last time this term.

ecox@baltsun.com

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