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COUNCIL VOICE: Voting rights and registration

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COUNCIL VOICE • BY SETH GRMIES, Ward 1 Councilmember

Mayor Bruce Williams has added discussion of two linked initiatives, a voting-rights resolution and Election Day voter registration (EDVR), to the Tuesday, January 22 city-council agenda. I’m excited about these initiatives, which seek to expand participation in city elections and support non-city voting actions, but first –

The agenda also includes a Discussion of Financial Matters and Budget Priorities, a rather dry title for an important question: Should we spend unallocated Fiscal Year 2013 funds (the FY13 runs July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013), and what initiatives should the city prioritize in developing its FY14 budget? Do read the backgrounder compiled by Acting City Manager Suzanne Ludlow and share your thoughts with me or your non-Ward 1 council rep.

The voting-initiative background material covers both Councilmember Tim Male’s draft Right to Vote resolution and my own EDVR proposal, with supporting materials from the League of Women Voters and the Maryland NAACP. The Maryland branches of both organizations are part of a coalition promoting Same Day Voting (essentially the same as EDVR) in Maryland. But the state legislative initiatives — Delegate Kirill Reznik’s HB 17, Elective Franchise – Registration and Voting at Polling Places, which would change the Maryland constitution to allow (but not actually create) same-day voting; and Governor Martin O’Malley’s proposed expansion of early voting, with same-day registration during early voting — aren’t a slam-dunk and would not clearly apply to city elections even if enacted. The ACLU (Maryland and Montgomery County), Progressive Maryland, and Takoma Park-based FairVote are part of the coalition and endorse Takoma Park EDVR; CASA of Maryland, Common Cause Maryland, and Maryland PIRG are other partners in the state coalition.

The goal of both EDVR and the Right to Vote resolution is to expand often-dismal Takoma Park electoral participation. Voter turn-out in wards with high proportions of renters and minorities is particularly low, which is why I hope we will both enact EDVR and consider another initiative, a modification to Takoma Park landlord-tenant code. The city is currently rewriting that section of city code, to update, clarify, and strengthen it. How about a new provision, to require landlords to provide a city-supplied voter-registration and electoral-information packet to new tenants? We’d have landlords distribute packets for household members who would be eligible to vote by the next even-year general election. Let’s get these folks registered to vote, and then let’s follow up, via schools, community organizations, and new direct outreach, to keep them informed about city elections!

I’d welcome your support for these initiatives — contact me, your own non-Ward 1 council rep, or the city clerk (clerk@takomaparkmd.gov), or testify at a council meeting — and as always, let me know if you have questions or concerns.

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2 comments

  1. Lawrence says:

    Lets require landlords to have their their tenants chauffeured to the voting station, and reimburse them for time lost from work while voting.

  2. Steve Davies says:

    I don’t think landlords should be required to distribute voter information. In some cases — the apartment building, for example — the owners are not even in town.

    The city is responsible for the election process. The city should mail the packets.

    If we had competition in the races, then candidates could be expected to launch their own registration drives. Isn’t that a big reason Obama’s been elected twice?

    All this sound and fury about low turnout ignores the obvious: Without competition, interest wanes. Also, I’m not sure I understand why you’re pegging the distribution to even-year elections. I would think that would just confuse people.

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