2016 End of Session Wrap-up: Elections

Elections and voter registration become a highlight issue during the 2016 session, with a high profile debate in the waning days of the 90 days. This article summarizes the 2016 election-related legislation on which MACo took a position, and its final outcome.

check“Automatic” Voter Registration Whittled Down To Agency Systemic Improvements. HB 1007, the self-styled “Freedom to Vote Act,” was introduced to create an “opt out” voter registration process – using government agency databases and points of contact to broaden voter registration. Several similar bills were introduced in the Senate – SB 11, SB 19, and SB 350. The costs of the proposal were difficult to pin down, but MACo had expressed concern that burdens on both the State Board of Elections and the local boards would be substantial. Following a Senate floor vote defeating SB 350, the Senate reworked HB 1007 into a series of process improvements designed to better access potential voters, but coming short of the “automatic” systems originally envisioned. FINAL STATUS: The heavily amended HB 1007 received broad bipartisan support, and passed on the session’s final day, with active mention that it no longer carried costs on local boards of elections. The other bills all failed.

Expanded Early Voting Narrowed Slightly and Passed. HB 1008 was introduced to expand the number of early voting locations in the larger counties. MACo had testified in support of a statewide local option to expand sites, determined by the local governing body and board of elections. Neither chamber accepted the “local option” amendment, and only altered the population tiers to limit the bill’s effect to the five most populous jurisdictions. See previous Conduit Street coverage, “Early Voting Bill Moves in Senate, Slightly Narrowed.” FINAL STATUS: The slightly narrowed bill after Senate amendments received House approval and was enrolled passed.

checkEarly Voting Window Stays. MACo resisted legislation altering the window of time for early voting centers to operate, citing concern that ballot preparation could be compromised by the later proposed time. HB 83 would have moved the window fore early voting to run from Sunday-to-Sunday before the Tuesday election. Election administrators raised worried that the short turnaround between Sunday early voting and Tuesday morning live voting could present major administrative difficulties and increase error rates and accountability problems. FINAL STATUS: HB 83 was not voted in the House committee, and was defeated.

checkNo To Staggered County Terms. MACo supported HB 129, suggesting that the constitutional amendment could be broadened to allow, at their option, all counties to establish staggered terms for their own elected offices. For more information, see MACo’s testimony on HB 129FINAL STATUS: The bill was defeated in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties