State Democrats launch effort on voting rights

The state Democratic Party, mindful of past "shenanigans" at the polls, launched a program Wednesday that they said would protect Marylanders' right to vote in the Nov. 4 election.

Two of the party's senior leaders, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, held a news conference in Baltimore to call attention to the Democrats' "voter empowerment operation."


Cummings said voters in Maryland face fewer barriers than those in many other states that have adopted voter ID requirements that Democrats believe are designed to suppress the minority vote. But he said Maryland Democrats have to be on guard.

"We cannot remain silent when people are trying to lessen the rights of people to vote," said Cummings, a veteran Baltimore congressman.


With eight days of early voting starting Thursday, the Democrats have set up a hotline -- 1-888-678-VOTE -- where people can receive information on when and where to vote and report any problems at the polls.

Amanda LaForge, counsel to the state Democratic Party, said attorneys will be available to deal with any legal issues. She said that among the problems voters should call about are long lines, malfunctioning machines, misleading literature and polls that don't open on time.

LaForge noted that Maryland voters have a right to cast a provisional ballot if their names do not appear on the rolls where they attempt to vote. She also noted that Maryland law also permits voters to cast ballots without showing ID cards, except in the case of first-time voters who didn't show ID at registration. The lawyer also said voters who are in line by 8 p.m. have a right to vote on the regular touch-screen machines.

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Cardin noted that in some states, billboards had been put up in minority neighborhoods warning that voter fraud was punishable by three years in prison.

"We're here to say we won't tolerate this in our state and we should not tolerate it in any state in the nation," Cardin said.

Cardin said no state is immune to trickery at the polls.

"We hope there won't be any shenanigans done to suppress the vote in our state," Cardin said.

Cummings recalled the case in 2010 when Julius Henson, acting on behalf of Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s attempt to reclaim the State House from Gov. Martin O'Malley, put out Election Day robocalls to O'Malley strongholds telling voters the election was over and they could stay home.


"These are the kinds of thing we have to protect against," Cummings said.

Henson and former Ehrlich aide Paul Schurick were convicted in that case.