Legislators call for task force to study election laws


In the wake of Ellen R. Sauerbrey's landmark election challenge, state legislative leaders said yesterday that they want to create a bipartisan task force to investigate election-law reforms.

The presiding officers of the House and Senate said they are drafting an emergency bill that would set up a legislative-executive commission as early as this winter.

"In general we want to restore the faith and confidence of the people of Maryland in the election process," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat.

The task force would be the latest response to Mrs. Sauerbrey's claim of voter irregularities in the November gubernatorial election. Last Friday, the state elections board called for a

statewide examination of elections procedures, beginning in Baltimore.

Mrs. Sauerbrey, a Republican, failed to convince a judge last week that the election was "stolen" from her, but her case did highlight problems with the system. Elections officials in Baltimore failed to weed out ineligible voters from voting lists and did not maintain proper security over voting machines, according to testimony.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. ruled that such procedural problems were too minor to justify throwing out the election results. But he said the mistakes warranted further review.

After reading the judge's ruling, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said he became convinced of the need for a task force that would propose both immediate and long-term changes to election laws.

The commission would be made up of 15 to 20 people, including elected officials, citizens and leaders of both parties, said Mr. Taylor, a conservative Democrat from Western Maryland.

Also yesterday, state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. came to Annapolis to call for a similar task force. At a meeting of the House Commerce and Government Matters committees, Mr. Curran suggested the commission look at beefing up the statewide elections board.

The board should be given more control over local elections officials, so it could make sure they all followed the same rules and regulations, he said.

Other proposals by Mr. Curran, Mrs. Sauerbrey and others would provide more training for election judges and a uniform system for handling and counting absentee ballots.

Mr. Curran downplayed the problems exposed by Mrs. Sauerbrey's suit as "glitches" rather than major flaws. "The system needs to be fine-tuned, not overhauled," he said.

The state elections board, conducting its own election review, voted last night to hire an investigator and begin its probe in Baltimore. The investigation would be expanded statewide if time permitted.

The board also ordered Baltimore elections officials to secure all documents, ledgers and voter authority cards and ordered that their voting machines not be cleared.

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