A proposed constitutional amendment on next Tuesday’s ballot—to allow eligible Maryland residents to register on the day of the election itself and cast an immediate vote—represents the culmination of a decade of effort by Del. Kirill Reznik, a Germantown Democrat.
“I felt this was something that we needed to do to give people one more opportunity to be able to vote if they’re entitled to,” Reznik said this week. He initially introduced the legislation after observing that other states with so-called Election Day registration “consistently had higher voter turnout than we do in Maryland.”
If the change—the second of two state constitutional amendments on the ballot in this year’s Nov. 6 election—is approved, Maryland would join 15 other states and the District of Columbia that currently permit Election Day registration.
Until five years ago, the opportunity for eligible individuals to register to vote in Maryland closed 21 days prior to an election, and reopened 11 days after the election. In 2013, legislation proposed by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley extended registration to include early voting periods—which now run for eight days prior to primary and general elections. Under Reznik’s proposal, the registration window would be expanded further to include the day of the election itself.
“It took a couple of years for me to get this on the radar, and into the consciousness of my colleagues,” Reznik recalled in a telephone interview. After the passage of the 2013 measure—which, unlike Reznik’s plan, did not require an amendment to the state constitution—Reznik decided to temporarily put his proposal on hold, pending implementation of registration during the early voting period.
“I figured if we were successfully able to prove it would work, it would be an easy way for me to get in a constitutional change—and, in fact, that’s exactly what happened,” Reznik said. The first time that registration during early voting was allowed, in 2016, “it was a bigger success than I ever thought it could be,” Reznik said. “Over 20,000 people between the general and the primary used it, and there were no issues.”
The issues surrounding Election Day registration have generally involved concerns about voter fraud. When Reznik’s proposed constitutional amendment cleared the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year with the required three-fifth supermajority to place it on the ballot, it did so over the virtually unanimous opposition of the legislature’s Republican minority.
While there appears to be little or no formal opposition to Reznik’s amendment this fall—state Republican Party officials did not respond to queries about whether the party has taken a position on the measure—leading GOP state legislators remain skeptical.
“Same-day voter registration and voting at the polls on Election Day—I am voting AGAINST this because I am concerned about voter fraud,” Del. Kathy Szeliga of Baltimore County, the House minority whip, said in an email message to her supporters.
And the House minority leader, Del. Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County, told The Baltimore Sun last week that, while he backs registration during the early voting period, he is skeptical about allowing people to register on Election Day out of concern for fraud.
“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.
Across the country, Democrats have often accused Republicans of using such contentions as a cover for discouraging participation by lower-income individuals and minority group members.
“While Republicans keep searching for new ways to block access to the ballot box, Maryland Democrats are doing all we can to expand access to the ballot box,” Fabion Seaton, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said in an email to Bethesda Beat. “The party applauds Democrats in the legislature for passing this amendment to expand the franchise and we encourage all Marylanders to vote yes on question 2.”
“To continue this dog whistle of fraud is just sad,” declared Reznik, noting that two of the states with Election Day registration—Minnesota and Wisconsin—have allowed it since the 1970s.
“So it was before there was electronic checking, it was before IDs were more secure … and they’ve have had no issues with it,” he said, adding, “There’s not been one single instance that I have been able to uncover—and I’ve looked—where there has been a conscious attempt to defraud the system based on the fact that same-day voter registration exists. Not one, in 40-something years.”
In addition to support from the state and several local Democratic committees—including Montgomery County’s—Reznik’s proposal is backed by the Maryland arms of such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters. “There is a broad coalition that has consistently stood by me in support of this, and they have been pushing it across the state,” he said.
“For me, this has never been a partisan issue,” Reznik added. “The Republicans take advantage of this. This is to their benefit as much as it is to anybody else’s.”
However, in a state where Democrats have a 2-1 advantage in overall voter registration, significantly more Democrats than Republicans so far have taken advantage of the opportunity to register or update their registration when the window has opened during early voting periods.
Statewide, about 9,300 Democrats registered to vote or change their address during early voting in the run-up to the 2016 general election, compared with just 3,500 Republicans. During the early voting period in this year’s primary, the figures were even more to the Democrats’ advantage: 2,200, compared to 400 Republicans. For the first six days of the current 2018 early voting period, 3,150 Democrats and 900 Republicans either registered or changed their address.
If the Election Day registration amendment is approved, election officials would follow a protocol similar to what is now used for registration during early voting.
According to Nikki Charlson, deputy director of the State Board of Elections, election officials start with the database of the state Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and remove the names of those already registered. “Once we pull everyone who is registered, we run some more checks against it—and that group is prequalified,” Charlson explained in a telephone interview. Those additional checks include scrubbing the MVA database for noncitizens as well as individuals who are deceased or have been sentenced for a felony.
Those seeking to register on Election Day will have to present a driver’s license or other authorized form of identification. Those not in the MVA database will be allowed to cast a so-called provisional ballot, with a final determination on eligibility made after Election Day.
“The same eligibility checks are made” for same-day registration as compared to those registering under the traditional process, Charlson said. “The difference for same-day registration is we’re actually doing it before you even show up.”