Voter law called racist


Just months after the presidential election brouhaha in Florida and months before Annapolis municipal elections this fall, an embattled city council member is asking the city to repeal a yet-to-be-tested voter identification law.

Calling the law redundant and racist, Alderman Cynthia A. Carter has introduced an ordinance to overturn the 1998 law that requires city voters to present valid identification or sign an affidavit before casting their votes in municipal elections.

Carter says the law, which passed almost a year after the last city election, would put an undue burden on voters, especially low-income, elderly and minority voters who might not have a driver's license or other official identification.

"It is just something else that is a stumbling block to prevent people of color from voting," she said.

But critics point to allegations of wrongdoing by Carter and her supporters in the 1997 city election that made Carter the first African-American woman to serve on the city council. Letters from a handful of residents sent last fall to the city elections board allege misconduct at the polling place and hint at voter fraud.

Carter denies any wrongdoing or knowledge of wrongdoing in the Ward 6 election in which she ran as a Democratic write-in candidate.

"I think it is ironic that an alderman whose own election was mired in controversy and allegations of misconduct would try to overturn a city law that would deter voter fraud," said Alderman Herbert H. McMillan, a Republican from Ward 5, who sponsored the voter identification law.

McMillan said he decided to introduce the legislation after reviewing the city's election law and becoming aware of allegations of misconduct in the 1997 city election and 1994 Maryland gubernatorial election.

The voter identification law "protects the integrity and fairness of the election process," he said. The dispute in Florida over the presidential election further emphasized the importance of such a law, he said. A similar statewide voter identification law was introduced last month in the Maryland House of Delegates.

"Annapolis' voter identification law is a step forward - it is being emulated within the State House," he said. "Now Alderman Carter wants to take a step back."

But Carter and the Anne Arundel County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which has joined her in calling for the repeal of the law, also point to problems in Florida to support their cause.

"I see [the voter identification law] as a way of disenfranchising people because there are so many people who do not have proper identification," said Gerald Stansbury, president of the NAACP branch. "We don't want things to happen in Annapolis that happened in Florida."

Carter said the voter identification law and allegations of misconduct in her election are part of a "political strategy" to help Republicans get elected in the city.

Public housing residents or other low-income individuals - who often vote Democratic - are difficult to get registered to vote anyway, she said.

"Anything to cause a ripple in the system ... they will find it a hindrance," she said.

Carter voted in favor of the voter identification law in 1998, but now says she was mistaken and voted "without giving it much thought."

She said she also thinks the city law should be consistent with state and county law. If her ordinance passes, city law would revert to state election law.

The public will have the opportunity to comment on Carter's ordinance at the city council's public hearing today.

Other items open for public comment are:

Three measures relating to the long-debated annexation of the Villages of Chesapeake Harbour, a waterfront community just outside the city. The annexation agreement would give current residents a 10-year abatement on city property taxes, but new residents to the community would go on the tax rolls right away, said Mayor Dean L. Johnson. Johnson said the city expects to gain almost $1 million in annual tax revenue from the community after the 10-year abatement. The city would immediately see $200,000 in annexation fees as well as income tax revenue.

Another resolution would release the approximately $1.4 million held in escrow under the city's 1984 agreement to provide city water to the community, Johnson said. The money, paid by Chesapeake Harbour residents, was to revert to the city if the property was not annexed by 1994.

A measure is also pending to rezone the community if it is annexed.

An ordinance to clarify the basis for ineligibility for a taxicab owner's permit due to misdemeanor convictions.

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