O'Malley proposes expanded early voting

Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed on Friday an expansion of early voting in future elections in an effort to alleviate long lines such as those that formed outside Maryland voting sites last Election Day.

"In our state, we believe the more people voting, the stronger that makes our democracy," O'Malley said, calling the early voting program "popular and well received."

"We believe that in order to move forward, we need to make it easier for more people to vote, and that's what we're trying to do," O'Malley said.

The governor's proposal, part of the legislative package for this year's General Assembly session released Friday, would add three early voting sites to the current five in the three Maryland jurisdictions with 450,000 voters or more -- Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties. It would add two each in Frederick and Harford counties, which now each have one.

Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County, which now have five early voting sites, and Howard, with three, would keep their current number. All of the other counties would stay at one apiece.

The measure would also expand the number of days and hours during which voters can cast early ballots.

Senate Presidente Thomas V. Mike Miller said he supports the governor's proposal.

"Anybody who stood in line at the polls recognizes that, in populous areas, another site or two would be welcome,"  Miller said. "Quite frankly, I'm in favor of voting online. ... It's going to happen some day, but it's not in the near future."

In presidential general elections, the proposal would add about 44 hours of early voting over an eight-day period. In all primary elections and gubernatorial general elections, it would add about 34 hours. Early voting would extend from Thursday to Thursday in each case. The hours would be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for presidential general elections and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. for other elections.

Maryland currently allows early voting over a six-day period, one of the narrowest windows in the country among states that permit voters to cast ballots early. Current law sets the early voting hours as 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on all days but Sunday, when they are noon to 6 p.m.

The governor will attempt to make voting easier by allowing new voter registrations and changes to existing registrations during the early voting periods. The proposal will also seek to make it easier to get an absentee ballot by letting voters apply for one online.

O'Malley's office said the administration is trying to reverse a trend in other states of limiting voter turnout through such measures as stricter voter identification rules.

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