Md. accused of neglecting voter access ACLU faults state's compliance with law


In a spot survey of state offices, the American Civil Liberties Union found only sparse compliance with a law requiring state agencies to make voter registration forms available to the public.

"The law is intended to make voter registration easy and accessible," ACLU Director Stuart Comstock-Gay said yesterday. "Unfortunately, it is not being carried out."

The ACLU survey found that only 17 of 42 state offices it surveyed had voter registration forms available. The group said that the survey only underscores its contention that voter registration should be made almost automatic for people who turn 18 years old.

Even as the ACLU announced the results of its survey yesterday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced a drive to increase the number of registered voters in Baltimore.

A big part of the city's effort will be to ensure that its 26,000 employees are all registered and to make forms available at city offices.

"Being registered to vote makes a very important difference," said Mr. Schmoke at a City Hall rally to kick off the registration drive.

Mr. Schmoke said the effort was suggested by organizers of Save Our Cities, a group pushing for the federal government to reverse itself and invest more money in cities.

"People voting can make a difference," said Sister Katherine Corr, who works with Save Our Cities. The group has been making a special effort to register people to vote in Baltimore since July. So far, the group's work has netted 1,400 new registrants, she said.

"People who hadn't registered before say, 'my vote doesn't count.' Or 'what's the difference,' " said Rosellen McDavid, a community organizer for Save Our Cities.

The voter registration effort also is an attempt to recover some of the 116,000 names purged from the city's voter rolls since 1984. Most of those people were removed for not voting in any election for five consecutive years.

In 1984, the city had 424,744 registered voters; now registration stands at 308,000, said Barbara E. Jackson, the city's election board administrator. To vote in the November presidential election, unregistered Marylanders must add their names to the voter rolls by Oct. 5.

While officials were optimistic that their registration efforts would make a difference, one young man who registered to vote amid the hoopla of the rally said he doubted that he will ever exercise his new power.

"All of this is a big front for the people in charge," said James Malone Jr., 28, an out-of-work construction worker. "I don't see what they are accomplishing. . . . The politicians are saying nothing that tickles my ears."

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