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Making elections fair

Election fraud strikes at the heart of our political system and threatens our freedom. When fraudulent votes cancel out legal votes, our rights as citizens are diminished. Free and fair elections are our American birthright, and citizen initiatives to safeguard voter integrity are a welcome development, supporting and supplementing the work of boards of elections across the country.

In a state such as Maryland, where voter ID is not required, the administration of polls is critical to the success of an election that is free of irregularities. This is the goal of Election Integrity Maryland (EIM).

What is an irregularity? It can be a clerical or mechanical error. It can also be a misunderstanding or an intentional misrepresentation.

Added to this, the antiquated voter rolls of many states add a layer of uncertainty and leave the door at least partially open for the possibility of voter fraud. In February, The Pew Center on the States issued a report, "Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient," stating: "Approximately 24 million voter registrations in the United States — one of every eight — are no longer valid or have significant inaccuracies ... Nearly 2 million deceased individuals are listed as voters. Approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state. About 12 million records have incorrect addresses ..."

Poll watchers and challengers are an integral part of the Maryland election system and the laws that govern it and provide an added level of protection against irregularities at the polls.

Election Integrity Maryland created our training strictly following the regulations outlined by the Maryland State Board of Elections. In fact, our training guide was reviewed and approved by the board.

Our poll watchers are trained in a two-hour webinar; there is no pre-screening of registrants. We invite volunteers statewide to undergo the training and receive a "diploma" demonstrating they have completed their training and are prepared to serve in the polls.

EIM is nonpartisan. Once trained, our volunteers are encouraged to contact candidates, central committees or interest groups (e.g., parties on either side of the various referendums that will be present on the upcoming ballot) of their choice to volunteer to represent their interest in polling locations throughout the state. In essence, our trained poll watchers become the eyes and ears of the candidates, central committees or interest groups.

In contrast to what some have asserted, our volunteers are not focusing on largely minority precincts. On the day of the general election, poll watchers will be on hand mostly in their own precincts or districts, whether minority precincts or otherwise.

Volunteer poll watchers have just one item on their job description: observation. Poll watchers are not allowed to interact with voters. They are limited to speaking only with chief judges. They will take notes if they see something that appears out of the ordinary; note zero counts on the voting machines before voting commences; observe the placement of tamper tape at the end of the day; and note if anyone who requires assistance in voting does not receive it (or if a poll worker provides "too much" assistance).

No one in Maryland is prevented from voting. If someone is mistakenly omitted from the voter rolls, the voter is offered a provisional ballot and the Board of Elections will straighten out the confusion at the close of the election. If someone shows up at the wrong location, he or she will be instructed where their correct voting location is.

The goal of Election Integrity Maryland is to be a "help mate" of the election process in Maryland. We are not adversaries. While EIM is modeled after the True the Vote initiative begun in Houston in 2010, EIM has no official relationship with True the Vote. EIM is a nonprofit, 501(c) 4 corporation.

The Board of Elections, Election Integrity Maryland, True the Vote and the American people all want the same thing: an election where the outcome is not suspected of being manipulated by any person, party or special-interest group.

Cathy Kelleher is president of Election Integrity Maryland. Her email is c.kelleher@electionintegritymaryland.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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