By CARL STRAUMSHEIM - Capital News Service
WASHINGTON -- When President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney meet at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16, for their second debate in Hempstead, N.Y., the battle lines in Maryland will already have been drawn -- eligible voters must have registered to vote before then.
Donna Duncan, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said the agency is experiencing a rush of people registering to vote before Tuesday’s deadline -- a common event in presidential election years. Online traffic peaked on Oct. 4, the day after the first presidential debate in Denver, when more than 6,000 Marylanders accessed the online registration system. On an average day, the system logs about 2,500 visits, which can be simple address changes or new registrations.
“It’s wonderful to see this many people interested in our process,” Duncan said.
Maryland’s eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives all face re-election, and while many of the seats are not considered in play, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Buckeystown, and Democrat John Delaney are locked in close battle in a 6th District redrawn to favor Democrats. In the Senate race, Ben Cardin, a first-term Democrat, is running against Republican Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent, and businessman Rob Sobhani, an unaffiliated candidate.
The ballot also features several controversial voter referendums, including the Maryland Dream Act, which would allow some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Maryland colleges and universities; Gov. Martin O’Malley’s congressional redistricting plan, which opponents have accused of creating some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country; and a same-sex marriage law that would allow gay couples to obtain marriage licenses starting Jan. 1, 2013. The issues appear as Question 4, 5 and 6, respectively, on the ballot.
Question 7 would expand gambling in Maryland by adding table games, longer hours of operation and a new casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County. A recent poll conducted by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies suggests Question 7 may be the closest vote among the referendums, and gambling companies on both sides of the issue have poured tens of millions of dollars into the fight.
The ballot also includes three changes to Maryland’s constitution. Questions 1 and 2 would require judges on the Orphans’ Court of Baltimore and Prince George’s counties to be members of the Maryland State Bar Association, while Question 3 would cause elected officials to be automatically removed from office immediately following a conviction or if the official pleads guilty or no contest.
On a county level, ballots differ on charter referendums and elections for school boards and courts.
Voters who have yet to register can do so on the Maryland State Board of Elections web site -- http://electionsmaryland.com -- provided they have a Maryland driver’s license. The website also allows voters to update their name and address and lists their polling place.
Paper applications are available at colleges and universities, post offices and public libraries, as well as branches of the Board of Elections, Motor Vehicle Administration, Office of Aging and departments of Social Services and Health and Mental Hygiene.
Once their application is approved, voters are mailed a card confirming their registration. Registration status is also available online.
Voter registration data shows Democrats still hold a massive advantage in the state. In 2008, there were more than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans -- 1.9 million to 900,000. Since then, Democrats have widened the gap by more than 20,000 voters.
Still, the fastest growing group of voters has been those not affiliated with any party. One in every six voters -- or about 600,000 people -- now list themselves as unaffiliated, an increase of 100,000 from 2008.
For the first time in a presidential election year in Maryland, voters can head to the polls before Election Day. Early voting runs from Oct. 27 through Nov. 1, and is available to any registered voter in the state. Each county will run either one, three or five early voting centers that will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28.
In Howard County, early voting will be held at the Ellicott City Senior Center, 9401 Frederick Road; The Bain Center, 5470 Ruth Keeton Way in Columbia and Ridgely's Run Community Center, 8400 Mission Road in Jessup on the following dates:
Oct. 27, 10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Oct. 28, Noon - 6:00 pm
Oct. 29, 30, 31 and November 1, 2012 - 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.