Politicians wage war over voter registration forms


Joyce L. Terhes, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, says she's just trying to register new voters. Gene Raynor, administrator of the State Board of Election Laws and a Democratic appointee, says she's wasting taxpayers' money.

"Partisan politics," Ms. Terhes charges.

"Preposterous," Mr. Raynor responds. And this isn't even a statewide election year.

It all began last spring when Ms. Terhes started a new voter registration campaign.

Volunteers began mailing registration forms to new Maryland residents, whose names Ms. Terhes culled from a mailing list purchased by the party. So far, they've mailed more than 27,000. An accompanying letter welcomes the potential voter to Maryland and advertises the Republican Party as "the party of lower taxes, common sense and opportunity for everyone."

"Everyone talks about voter apathy," Ms. Terhes says. "This is a creative program we've got to encourage people to vote."

Mr. Raynor says encouraging voter registration is fine. But these forms cost money: $75 per 1,000, to be precise. The state board, he said, has been giving her forms in bunches of 10,000. It can't afford to continue.

"She's making random mailings," he said yesterday. "Thesforms were not designed to be just randomly mailed out." Political and civic groups take the forms in bulk to campaign or community events, he said, and hand them out to people who are interested, not to everyone who walks by.

"She has called and has continued to call, and we have given her 31,000 voter registration forms," he said. "Listen, I'll go anywhere to get 2,000 people registered to vote. I'll go anywhere to get two people registered to vote. But this is a waste of taxpayers' money."

Ms. Terhes said she told Mr. Raynor, "I cannot believe that you're telling me, as chairman of the Republican Party, that I can't have the forms to continue to do this. I hope this isn't partisan politics. It's blatant."

"That's crazy," Mr. Raynor bristled. "What does she think? I'll give them to Democrats and not to her? That's preposterous."

Ms. Terhes says voter registration by mail is up since she began her program. Mr. Raynor said he checked the numbers on the forms the Republicans used and found the percentage being returned is "very low."

Instead of mailing a registration form, Mr. Raynor said, Ms. Terhes should be enclosing a card telling voters where to write for a form. "Or they could call 1-800-222-VOTE, and we would be happy to mail them a form," Mr. Raynor said.

Next month, Ms. Terhes said, she'll bring her complaint to a meeting of the election board. Mr. Raynor said he will not allow her to continue taking forms for her mailings.

Perhaps there's a compromise? Elizabeth L. Nilson, special assistant to the attorney general, said that "budgets are tight" and that the Republican Party may be allowed to reproduce the form at its own expense "as long as we take a look at the reproduction to make sure they're following our forms."

Ms. Terhes said she'd consider paying "if they're going to make everybody else pay for them as well."

Meanwhile, not all of the people on the GOP mailing list are great prospects for registration. Ms. Nilson says a recent letter to the state elections board complained that the writer's father had just received the Republican Party's letter. The problem was the father has been dead for years.

"See what I mean?" Mr. Raynor said. "The return is very low."

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