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Poll tax or confusing postage label?

The Maryland Republican Party today filed a complaint with the Maryland State Board of Elections about the way return envelopes for absentee ballots have been labeled, comparing it to one of several infamous efforts in the South to disenfranchise poor black and white voters for nearly a century after the Civil War.

The poll taxes in effect then were designed to be too expensive for certain groups of voters to afford. The "poll tax" the Republicans are complaining about might make some voters erroneously think it would cost them an extra 41 cents to cast an absentee ballot.

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A postage box on envelopes for the ballots reads: "Extra Postage Required," but the postal service told the party the envelope only requires a regular 41-cent stamp, which means that some absentee voters may make the mistake of putting more postage than necessary on the envelope. This imposes a new "poll tax," according to a release from the party.

According to the online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, poll taxes date to the 1300s, but the term most commonly is meant to refer to:

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"the agrarian unrest of the 1880s and 1890s, which culminated in the rise of the Populist Party in the West and the South. The Populists, a low-income farmers' party, gave the Democrats in these areas the only serious competition that they had experienced since the end of Reconstruction. The intensity of competition led both parties to bring blacks back into politics and to compete for their vote. Once the Populists had been defeated, the Democrats amended their state constitutions or drafted new ones to include various disfranchising devices. When payment of the poll tax was made a prerequisite to voting, impoverished blacks and often poor whites, unable to afford the tax, were denied the right to vote."

Read the full release below:

MARYLAND GOP CALLS FOR AN END TO NEW "POLL TAX" FOR ABSENTEE BALLOT VOTERS

ANNAPOLIS—On Tuesday, February 12th, Republicans and Democrats in Maryland will head to the polls to vote in their party's primary election. However, voters who exercise their right to vote by using an absentee ballot will be paying a new "poll tax." The Maryland Republican Party is calling for an end to this practice.

Maryland voters who return their absentee ballot using the required return envelope will note that the postage box reads "Extra Postage Required." However, the United States Postal Service has confirmed that the envelope only requires a regular 41-cent stamp. By including "Extra Postage Required" on the envelope, the State Board of Elections is instructing voters to put more postage on their envelope, thus, imposing a new "poll tax" to exercise the right to vote.

The Maryland Republican Party has filed today a complaint with the Maryland State Board of Elections and has requested (1) that corrected return envelopes be used; (2) that the State Board of Elections use all public mediums possible to correct the error; and (3) that the State Board of Elections appoint an independent task force to investigate these recent lapses in oversight and quality control by the Board that have put confidence in the electoral process in jeopardy.

John Flynn, Executive Director of the Maryland Republican Party, released the following statement:

"It is alarming that the Board of Elections would instruct Marylanders to place 'extra postage' on their absentee ballots when a regular 41-cent stamp is all that is required. The cost of voting in Maryland has just gone up.

"Most Marylanders are going to unnecessarily add a second 41-cent stamp to the return envelope or waste their time in line at the Post Office only to find out that 'extra postage' was not required. Add it all up, and that is a lot of wasted money by Marylanders who exercise their right to vote and a windfall for the government.

"Last year, the State Board of Elections erred in telling 17-year olds that they could not vote in their party's primary, a practice the Board has since reversed. Then, last month, the Board of Elections in Talbot County sent out sample primary ballots with wrong precinct information and in some cases sent Republican ballots to Democrats and Democrat ballots to Republicans. Now, we see the Board of Elections imposing a new poll tax on Maryland voters using the absentee ballot process.

"The Board of Elections needs to get its act together. The right to vote is one of our most cherished rights and one of our most fundamental duties as citizens. The Maryland Republican Party will be watching the primary election process very carefully on Tuesday and expects a full investigation after the primary election has concluded."

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