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ANNAPOLIS, MD – On Monday, the Maryland Senate passed the Freedom to Vote Act, a bill to modernize and strengthen voter registration statewide. The new bill would expand voter registration opportunities to nearly every state agency and give many agencies already offering voter registration services a technological upgrade, reducing costs and increasing the accuracy of the voter rolls.
Passage of the Freedom to Vote Act in Maryland follows on the heels of election-day debacles in Wisconsin and Arizona, where stricter ID laws and cuts to polling locations resulted in hours-long lines and reduced ballot access.
“If we want to build a stronger democracy, our first priority should be modernizing registration and expanding access to the polls, not restricting it.” said Emma Boorboor, Elections Reform Campaign Director for U.S. PIRG. “In a world that relies on smart phones and wireless networks, it’s time for state governments to take a 21st century approach to voter registration. This week, Maryland took important steps towards modernized, electronic voter registration that will save the state time and money.”
If Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signs the Freedom to Vote Act, the bill would expand electronic registration opportunities from just the Motor Vehicle Association to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Natural Resources, and One-Stop Career Centers. The Freedom to Vote Act will also give many agencies already offering voter registration services a technological upgrade, reducing costs and increasing the accuracy of voter registration. Through this modernization, Maryland has laid the groundwork for automatic voter registration and could help lead the way toward ensuring that all eligible citizens have access to the polls.
In the last presidential election, it’s estimated that over a million eligible voters were turned away from the polls because of related registration problems. This year, voters in states like Wisconsin have faced long lines or been turned away at the polls as result of new voter ID restrictions. Voters in Arizona faced similar waits on primary day as result of cuts to polling locations in some of the state’s most populous areas.
While passage of the Freedom to Vote Act is seen as an important step towards improved ballot access in Maryland, Monday’s victory comes less than a week after the Maryland Senate failed to pass automatic voter registration (AVR). AVR would have allowed the State Board of Elections to register eligible individuals unless they declined, likely updating Maryland’s voter rolls with tens of thousands of eligible residents.
Boorboor said, “While the Freedom to Vote Act is a critical improvement, Maryland lawmakers still have work to do to build a modern-day voter registration system that’s inclusive of all Maryland residents. We plan to keep fighting for more modernization.”
The Freedom to Vote Act is supported by a broad coalition of groups, including U.S. PIRG, Maryland PIRG, the League of Women Voters Maryland, Maryland Working Families, Communities Unite, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, SEIU, Demos, Democracy Initiative, Sierra Club, Center for Popular Democracy, CASA of Maryland, SIX Action, Progressive Maryland, and Project Vote.
U.S. PIRG, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, 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.
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