Casino 'lockbox' for Maryland school funding and Election Day voter registration win approval

Voters gave their backing Tuesday to a pair of amendments to Maryland’s constitution. One requires casino revenues to be added to school budgets and the other opens the way for people to sign up to vote on Election Day.

There was strong support for both measures.

The voter registration amendment allows the General Assembly to create a system for eligible Maryland residents to show up at the polls, register and cast a ballot, all on Election Day.

Democrats in the General Assembly overwhelmingly supported the idea, saying it will make it easier to vote and could boost turnout. Republicans, though, opposed the measure that led to Tuesday’s referendum, voicing concerns about fraud.

Del. Kirill Reznik, a Montgomery County Democrat who was on a 10-year quest to get the measure approved, said he was thrilled with the result.

“The people of Maryland have made it clear that access to the ballot is a nonpartisan issue,” he said.

Reznik said he planned to introduce legislation in the coming legislative session to put a same-day registration system into place.

State elections officials didn’t take a stance on the ballot measure, but say an Election Day system could work along much the same lines as one that currently allows people to register or change their address during early voting.

The elections board works to prequalify voters using their drivers’ license records and by consulting data on people who have been convicted of felonies and people who have died. That way, when someone shows up to register, the necessary background checks are essentially already complete.

Voters without a driver’s license or state ID card have to cast a provisional ballot, which is counted after Election Day, so the checks can be carried out.

The ballot measure was not a high-profile issue, even as questions of voting rights have roiled elections elsewhere in the nation this year.

Since 2016, a few thousand Maryland voters in each primary and general election have made use of the opportunity to register during early voting. In the most recent early-voting period — from Oct. 25 to Nov. 1 — 3,733 people registered and voted the same day.

The system has given Democrats a slight boost, according to elections board records. During early voting this fall, four times as many Democrats made use of the registration system as either Republicans or unaffiliated voters. That’s a pattern that has held true since 2016.

Support for Election Day registration has been spreading around the country. Fifteen other states and the District of Columbia allow it.

The casino “lockbox” was attended by little controversy — except Democrats squabbling with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan over who should get credit for it.

Live results: 2018 general election in Maryland »

The measure requires the governor to dedicate gambling revenues — estimated to be $500 million by 2022 — to funding local public systems, on top of current minimum funding requirements.

When voters approved slots-only casinos in 2008 and table games in 2012, gambling was sold as a way to help fund schools. But in practice, the casino revenues were merely used to meet existing funding requirements, which state budget officials determine using a formula spelled out in state law.

The lockbox will ensure that schools across the state receive an extra infusion of money, but its importance is likely to be short-lived. A state commission is expected to propose updating the funding formulas soon to give schools more money — and the casino funds could be used to meet some of those extra costs.

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