There were approximately 80 bills filed this session dealing with elections, campaign finance and redistricting. Below is a summary of what happened to a number of bills related to the election process.
HB 73 Voters’ Rights Protection Act of 2015 (Rosenberg )which was amended before final passage in both houses. The Act becomes effective July 1, 2015. The Act authorizes the Attorney General to institute an action in circuit court for injunctive relief to prohibit a person from committing an imminent violation, or continuing to commit a violation of certain provisions of the Election Law Article which prohibit certain voting-related offenses. As amended, the bill authorizes the State Prosecutor, instead of the Attorney General, to seek injunctive relief if the Attorney General is a candidate in a contest on the ballot in an election and a violation is committed by the Attorney General, a candidate opposing the Attorney General in a contest on the ballot, or a person acting on behalf of the Attorney General or an opposing candidate. Injunctive relief may only be granted pursuant to the bill (1) to prevent a violation from affecting a pending election and (2) based on a showing by clear and convincing evidence that a violation is imminent or is being committed. The League testified in favor of this bill.
SB 204/HB 396 Election Law – Primary Election Dates in the Presidential Election Year (Turner) underwent amendment in the House, it was further amended in the Senate, and the House concurred with the Senate amendments so the bill will now take effect October 1, 2015. The bill sets the date of the primary election in a Presidential election year as the fourth Tuesday in April. Maryland’s Presidential primary will be held on the same date as those in Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, and it will take place after primaries in twenty-nine other states. A number of other dates relevant to the election calendar were also changed by this bill, including the date by which write-in candidates must file a petition of candidacy. This date was previously set as the Wednesday before an election, and it is now set as the 7th day preceding the start of Early Voting.
SB 97/HB 884 Election Law – Counting of Properly Cast Ballots (Norman/Lisanti) passed both houses. The bill amends Maryland Election Law to require that an absentee ballot that is properly cast by a voter be counted, even if the voter dies before the canvass of absentee ballots. Previously, an absentee ballot had to be rejected if the local election board learned of the voter’s death prior to the canvass. The bill has been signed by the Governor and will take effect June 1, 2015.
HB 908/SB 340 Election Law – Voting Rights – Ex-Felons allows ex-felons to register and vote upon completion of their term of incarceration. The bill removes any term of parole or probation from the waiting period. The bill takes effect July 1, 2015. These bills were the subject of interesting hearings, and were heavily amended before final passage. Originally, the bill contained a number of requirements for certain state agencies to notify persons released from incarceration of their right to vote, and required the State Board of Elections to receive reports of those released from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, but those portions of the bill were amended out of the final version.
SB 5 Election Law – Canvass of Votes – Public Observation (Bates) passed and will take effect on July 1, 2015. This bill clarifies that the canvass process for votes cast during Early Voting is open for public inspection, just as the canvass for absentee ballots and votes cast on Election Day. Although the bill specifies certain individuals and entities that have the right to be present during the canvass, it was amended to add “any other individual who wish(es) to be present.” The League testified in favor of this bill.
The issues that were the subject of legislation that did not pass this session include changes to Early Voting dates (League did not support), creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission on Voting, Openness, Transparency and Equality in Elections (LWV supported), election audits (LWV Supported), proof of citizenship to register to vote (LWV opposed), and special elections to fill U.S. Senate vacancy and vacancies in General Assembly.