LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS®
Overview of the 2010 Elections
Maryland State Election Administrator Linda Lamone presented an overview of the 2010 Elections in late January to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee and to the House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee. The staff of the SBE has also presented specifics on various aspects of the election at the February and March meetings of the State Board of Elections.
How we voted
Early voting, implemented for the first time in 2010, accounted for 12 percent or one out of every eight ballots cast in the general election. It grew in popularity during the primary, with an average of 11,000 voters the first three days, and 15,000 the last three days. In the general election, these same periods averaged 32,000 voters, then more than 50,000 voters. The early voting participants were older (57 vs. 49) and more regular voters than the average registrant. They accurately predicted the final outcome in 96 percent of all races. Based on history in other states, early voting is expected to grow in future elections, as people become aware of this alternative to Election Day voting. It may reach as high as 25 percent in the presidential election.
On General Election Day, nearly 82 percent of voters cast their ballots on the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting system at their local precincts. Another 2 percent of voters cast provisional ballots, because of registration issues. More than 71 percent of those ballots were accepted in full after research, another fifth were accepted in part, and less than 9 percent were rejected. The overwhelming reason for rejection (76.8 percent) was the voter was not registered, but over 11 percent (363 ballots) were not counted because there was no signature on the application, something that should have been caught at the precinct. In the primary election, provisional voting had a higher rejection rate of nearly one-third, with nearly 40 percent of those rejections due to not using the primary ballot for which they were qualified and another nearly 40 percent not eligible to vote provisionally.
Absentee ballots accounted for just fewer than 5 percent of the votes cast (88,359) in the general election. The returned ballots accounted for slightly less than 80 percent of ballots distributed. Most absentee ballots were both sent and returned by mail. Electronic delivery accounted for over 10 percent sent and 8 percent received, and requires extensive staff time to duplicate on countable ballot stock. New procedures are under consideration for reducing this time and effort. Absentee voting peaked in 2006 at nearly 9 percent, declining to 8 percent in 2008 and under 6 percent for both 2010 elections, and the overall return rate has also declined in that same period from 84 percent to under 80 percent. Military and overseas voters requesting ballots in 2008 were sent ballots to the same address in 2010, unless they had updated it. Since a specific request for 2010 was not needed, the address might have changed since 2008. Maryland continued to honor a two election absentee cycle request, although the federal law requiring this provision was repealed.
A September 2010 decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals changed the criteria used to verify and accept petition signatures, and ordered a previously rejected Montgomery County local law referendum to appear on the November ballot. However, the reasoning behind the decision, which will affect all petitions statewide, was only issued in late March 2011. It allows illegible signatures to be approved if the petition has sufficient other information to determine the identity of the signer. Local and state election officials described the ruling as making the decision process more subjective and less precise. The recent Court of Appeals ruling is under review by State Board of Elections legal staff. Further interpretation may be forthcoming, to specify the minimum amount of information required for signature approval.
Outlook for Future Elections
Primary date changes are in legislation moving through the General Assembly, to meet the requirements of the Federal MOVE Act and to maximum the voting power of state residents in both the Democratic and Republican Presidential primaries. The 2012 and future Presidential primaries will probably be the first Tuesday in April, and the 2014 and subsequent gubernatorial primaries will be the fourth Tuesday in June. Internal filing and processing deadlines on the election calendar are also being adjusted by the pending legislation. Watch for the post-session Report from State Circle to verify legislative action on this and other electoral issues.
Voter registration, and especially updating, at the MVA continues to be an issue because a new registration form, with party preference and signature, is still required. Updating MVA information does not cover both functions. The SBE has compared its voter registration list against the MVA addresses and contacted voters with discrepancies. Currently, the SBE Administrator and the MVA Director are working together to implement new procedures that have been effective in the state of Delaware.
Reduced budgets, at both the State and County levels probably mean we will continue to use the DREs in the 2012 elections and not purchase optical scan machines as the General Assembly had directed in prior sessions. Also, reductions in funds for personnel, overtime and temporary staffing will probably carry consequences in future elections, especially in processing time of registration and absentee ballot applications, the number of election judges assigned to polling places, and the speed in completing absentee and provisional ballot canvases. We all may need to be a little more patient so that the many electoral tasks are still completed with the same degree of accuracy to ensure all qualified residents have the opportunity to vote and have their opinions correctly counted and reported.
Barbara Sanders, LWVMD Voters’ Service