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On the ballot statewide: Should Maryland allow people to register on Election Day?

Amid a national debate on access to the franchise, voters in Maryland are deciding whether to allow same-day registration, which would allow people to sign up to cast ballots on Election Day itself.

Del. Kirill Reznik, who sponsored the legislation that led to the ballot question, has been pushing the idea for about a decade to increase voter registration. And it would give people who missed earlier deadlines an opportunity to still have their voices heard, Reznik said.

“It is important to make sure that every single individual who is entitled to cast a ballot is allowed to do so,” the Montgomery County Democrat said.

Early voting began Thursday in Maryland and runs through Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 6.

Since the 2016 election, Maryland residents have been able during early voting to register to vote, or change their address, and cast a ballot the same day. The Question 2 ballot measure would add Maryland to the list of 15 states and the District of Columbia that have same-day registration on Election Day.

Voting rights issues have split the major political parties in several states in recent years, with Democrats in particular accusing Republicans of seeking partisan advantage by making it harder for poor people and minority voters to cast ballots.

The Maryland ballot issue, which if passed would require changing the state Constitution, also divided Republicans and Democrats when the General Assembly agreed on a party-line vote to send it to a referendum.

Reznik said that anything lawmakers and voters in Maryland can do to counteract efforts elsewhere to make it harder to vote is a “good thing.”

“I see it as part of a national conversation to ensure people have the right to cast a ballot,” he said. “That is one of our most fundamental freedoms.”

Del. Nic Kipke, the Republican leader in the House of Delegates, said he supports registration during early voting, but questioned whether allowing people to register on Election Day itself could create an opening for fraud to creep into the system.

“I think if it were to happen, it would be small in number but, as we've seen, some of these races are decided by a handful of voters,” Kipke said.

Nikki Charlson, Maryland’s deputy elections director, said the State Board of Elections had no position on the measure. She said officials would be able to implement same-day Election Day registration if it were approved.

Charlson said the system would operate in much the same way as during early voting. To register during that period, a person has to be able to prove residency by showing a driver’s license or identification card, a utility bill or other authorized form of proof.

The elections board prequalifies residents in the Motor Vehicle Administration’s database, checking names against data of felony convictions and deaths, so that voters with driver’s licenses can cast a regular ballot. Those who aren’t in MVA records can still register, but cast a provisional ballot that is scrutinized after Election Day.

“Everybody’s getting the same level of checking,” Charlson said.

Should voters support the measure, the General Assembly would have to pass further legislation allowing same-day registration to go into effect.

Same-day registration during early voting in Maryland has benefited Democrats, data from the State Board of Elections show. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 among Maryland’s 4 million voters. But a greater proportion of Democrats — about 9,200 — registered to vote or changed their address during early voting in the 2016 general election, compared with 3,400 Republicans. During this year’s primaries, the figures were even more lopsided: 2,200 Democrats to 400 Republicans.

Voters are also being asked to decide Question 1, which, if approved, would change the state Constitution to require a governor to allocate state revenues from gambling to education, in addition to the legal minimum funding for public schools.

The policy, known as a “lockbox,” would phase in over several years. It would provide an estimated additional half a billion dollars for state schools by 2022. The General Assembly approved the lockbox idea with near-unanimous votes in both chambers and Gov. Larry Hogan supports it.

The goal is to stop a governor from being able to use the casino revenues to meet the legal baselines for school funding.

In practice, it is likely only to have that effect for a few years. A state Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known as the Kirwan commission because its chairman is former University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan, is examining school funding. It is expected to propose steep increases in spending. If lawmakers adopt higher funding requirements, the casino money could be used to meet them.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, compares the lockbox to a “down payment” toward the expected greater school spending.

“We want to increase funding for our schools, both capital and operational,” the Baltimore Democrat said. “Many schools are in dire need of new funding, and we want to expand and make sure that we’re helping particularly students at risk.”

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