Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Early Voting Goes Down (For Now)

As the Washington Post reported on August 12, Ronald Silkworth, a Democrat-appointed Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge, has ruled that the Democrat-controlled General Assembly measure that would open the polls a week before election day violates Maryland's Constitution. And Judge Silkworth decided that it is unlawful as well to allow voters to cast ballots outside of their home precincts. Curiously, the judge stayed his decision pending appeal. It seems to me that having found the Assembly's radical election law changes unconstitutional, it would have been wiser to put an immediate halt to the notion that such far-reaching changes in polling procedures should continue to be implemented. But at least Judge Silkworth has made a decision that appears to uphold the rule of law in the face of often overheated populist rhetoric that demeans the sacredness and sanctity of the right to vote.

In an editorial today, the Post does point out that "Democrats used their upper hand in the General Assembly to write legislation that unfairly favored their party...." But the Post, while not disputing the constitutional infirmities of the current measure, nevertheless holds out hope that they can be remedied. Of course, voting should not be made difficult for those who are eligible to exercise the franchise, and participation by all those eligible should be encouraged, not discouraged. Period.

But Maryland has a virtual "no excuses" absentee ballot policy for those who cannot--or simply do not want--to make it to the polls in person. With radical new changes in polling such as early voting and voting outside of home precincts, there is necessarily an increased risk of fraud. In light of Maryland's very liberal absentee ballot policy, even apart from the constitutional infirmities, Maryland lawmakers should have acted with much more prudence before enacting radical changes to the election law.

Putting aside any partisan motivations, behind all so-called "liberal" election law changes such as those rammed through by the Maryland Assembly is the notion that every single person should vote, no matter what. No matter if we have to bring the ballot to them on a silver platter wrapped in white linen with a fresh red rose astride. The Post captures some of this vote-at-all-costs sentiment in today's editorial when it says that giving Maryland voters four extra days to vote "would dilute the effectiveness of perennial excuses for voter laziness--such as the classic 'I forgot today was Election Day.'"

Excuse me. But "I forgot today was Election Day" --or voter laziness-- is not a reason to make elections an ongoing running affair, or to allow voters to show up to vote wherever it may suit their fancy. Once we make sure that those who want to vote, but can't make it to their local precinct on election day, find it easy to do so through absentee ballots, why can't we acknowledge that those who "forget" it is election day, or who just won't go to one extra bit of trouble or sacrifice to exercise the sacred privilege, probably shouldn't be voting at all? After all, elections don't come along every day--unless the Maryland General Assembly has its way. It is not too much to ask citizens to be sufficiently motivated to do a little extra to get to the polls on election day.

The old Soviet Union always boasted, and today's Iran, North Korea, and Cuba all boast, about election turnouts approaching 100%. No one would assert--I hope--that such ubiquitous turnouts are a sign of a healthy democracy.