Attorney General Gansler Highlights Signing of Law Enhancing Voter Protections in Municipal Elections
Bill gives state prosecutor jurisdiction to investigate, prosecute alleged violations
Baltimore, MD (April 9, 2014) - Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler today praised the signing of legislation that heightens the integrity of municipal elections by extending the State Prosecutor's authority to investigate alleged voting rights violations at the local level. The bill unanimously passed both chambers of the General Assembly.
Current law allows the state prosecutor to examine potential violations in statewide and county elections, and in Baltimore City, but not in other municipal races. As such, the state prosecutor can't investigate or prosecute the various voting offenses listed in the Election Law Article 16-201 -- impersonation, double voting, intimidation, bribery and fraud, among others - unless the town charter or code provides for it.
"Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and it's critical to have a mechanism in place at all levels to investigate and prosecute voting rights violations," said Attorney General Gansler. "Voters deserve a legitimate election every time they go to the polls. There's no reason voters in Maryland should have the same protections provided in many other states."
The issue of election impropriety surfaced in a 2012 election in Worcester County, when absentee ballots were allegedly distributed with a candidate's literature. The local state's attorney forwarded the issue to the state prosecutor, who indicated his office lacked jurisdiction to investigate the matter.
"In America, we will miss an opportunity if we don't take full advantage of the democratic process," said Eddie Lee, a Snow Hill resident and former president of the Worcester NAACP who was a leading advocate on the legislation. "With the support of Attorney General Gansler, we were able to challenge a problem and make it better for the people."
"Civil rights advocates have made substantial progress over the years and this new law represents another step towards ensuring voters are neither deterred from participating in municipal elections nor are their ballot selections illegally manipulated," said the Rev. Dr. S. Todd Yeary, senior pastor at Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore who also serves as political action chair of the Maryland NAACP. "The NAACP has always been committed to protecting the rights of every citizen to fully participate in the electoral process at every level of government."
Attorney General Gansler thanked Senator Joan Carter Conway for her leadership on the legislation and his Civil Rights Division, headed by Kisha Brown and Richard Tabuteau, for their work on this issue.