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BALTIMORE – The events of 2020 made a clear case for why American democracy desperately needs reform. But while an important federal election reform bill called the “For The People Act” has stalled in the U.S. Senate, a handful of states, notably Maryland, are pushing forward with building a better democracy.
With the state legislative session wrapping up on April 12, the Maryland General Assembly is poised to pass several reforms to increase access to early voting, improve on the state's vote-by-mail system, and reduce the role of large and corporate donors in races for governor. All bills have already moved through at least one chamber. And, in contrast to what we see at the federal level, many of the bills feature bipartisan support.
These include bills that:
Give voters the option to have mail-in ballots sent automatically to them for all elections.
Reduce barriers to voting for students and members of the military.
Update and fund the state’s gubernatorial public campaign finance system to empower small donors.
States have often been described as laboratories of democracy, and in recent years, Maryland has been one of the most productive laboratories. In fact, many of the reforms in the For the People Act are already in use in Maryland. Over the last decade, Maryland has passed automatic voter registration, has expanded access to mail-in balloting and, after the state legislature passed enabling legislation in 2013, five Maryland cities and counties have worked to establish successful public campaign financing programs to empower small donors.
Groups including Maryland PIRG, Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Maryland, the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, Disability Rights Maryland, and the Maryland ACLU have worked with legislators and activists to advocate for these reforms.
So, while partisan gridlock stymies reform just across the state line in Washington, DC, Maryland is showing that there is a path forward for building a democracy that works for everyone.
U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. U.S. PIRG is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.
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