May 20, 2005

The Honorable Michael E. Busch
Speaker of the House
State House
Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Mr. Speaker:

In accordance with Article II, Section 17 of the Maryland Constitution, today I have vetoed House Bill 622 - Elections - Absentee Voting on Demand

House Bill 622 eliminates the requirements that currently exist for a voter to qualify for an absentee ballot. Under current law, a voter is required to provide a statutory reason in order to cast an absentee ballot, such as service in the armed forces, illness, disability or absence from the polling place on Election Day. This bill would remove the existing restrictions on absentee eligibility and put Maryland in the category of a "no-excuse" absentee voting state.

Maryland has a national reputation as a state with a rich history of voter fraud. Over the years, the General Assembly has carefully crafted an election process that includes numerous safeguards to protect against voter irregularities. We require most voters to personally appear at their own election precinct on a single day, Election Day. On that day, we appoint representatives of the political parties as election judges to conduct the balloting process at the polls. We also allow representatives of political parties, candidates and advocacy groups to appoint poll watchers and challengers to observe the conduct of the election. We only allow absentee ballots to be used by those with valid reasons that would prohibit their attendance at the polls. All of these factors create a delicate balance between protecting voter's rights while recognizing the State's obligation to protect against voter fraud.

House Bill 622 upsets this delicate balance without providing additional safeguards to protect against voter fraud. In fact, it is an invitation for greater voter fraud in the state. Those states that have "no-excuse" absentee voting generally have more stringent requirements for voter identification in the absentee ballot process, including that the ballot be notarized or signed by two witnesses who are subject to criminal penalties for false impersonation. One state includes provisions that any absentee ballot from a resident of a nursing home must be witnessed by two members of the "Nursing Home Absentee Voting Board." Moreover, there is a lack of consensus among the State's election officials about "no-excuse" absentee voting in Maryland. Even though members of the State Board of Elections expressed opposition to House Bill 622 at their February 2005 board meeting, the State Administrator testified in favor of the bill before the General Assembly. Specifically, members of the State Board maintain that absentee voting is the least secure method of voting, and accordingly, believe it should be subjected to further study.

While I believe that "no-excuse" absentee voting may be an appropriate election technique in Maryland, it should only be implemented after a thorough study and with full support of Maryland's election leaders. Please be assured that the Administration is committed to instilling public confidence in elections and ensuring that all Marylanders have the opportunity to cast a ballot and have their ballot counted. To this end, I will appoint a commission to examine and evaluate the election law bills passed this session and make recommendations concerning our State's election process. I am confident such a commission will develop policies and procedures assuring that fair and accurate elections take place within the State.

For the above stated reasons, I have vetoed House Bill 622.

Very truly yours,
Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.