Petitions, driver's license changes can cause problems at polls

Baltimore city voters sign in for early voting at the Public Safety Training Facility on Northern Parkway.

After Election Day, The Baltimore Sun wrote about the puzzling case of Christopher Lochner, who showed up to vote at his Hereford precinct, driver's license and voter ID card in hand, and discovered he did not exist in the poll books.

The problem? He'd signed a petition using a different address.


It turns out there are several ways voters can inadvertently change their voter registration. Changing your address on your license can also modify voter records. And what happened to Lochner could have happened to some of the people who gave more than 200,000 signatures over the past two years to put three state laws on the ballot.

Lochner remembers signing petitions for local and state issues, but doesn't know which would could have triggered changing his address to that of a friend living elsewhere in Baltimore County.


Lochner didn't remember using the wrong address, but since it was changed to a friend's house he figured it could not have been a coincidence. "I can't believe I would have done that," Lochner said. "I didn't realize they could come back and bite you."

He was able to vote using a provisional ballot.

Ross Goldstein, state deputy director of elections, said petitions are legally binding documents. Each one has language warning voters of that fact. Signing one with a different address essentially amounts to filling out a change-of-address form.

Baltimore Elections Director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. said each year he gets a handful of similar complaints from people who accidentally changed their voter registration address, often at the Maryland Vehicle Administration.

Jones said he's heard from voters who switched their driver's license address from the city, perhaps to a relative's home in Baltimore County in order to secure cheaper insurance rates. Then when they show up to vote at their city precinct, their names aren't on the rolls.

Elections officials said that these indirect method of addresses changes are a way to keep up with an electorate who may not think to notify the Board of Elections each time they move.

—Erin Cox