Experts: Lengthy Maryland ballot could challenge voters

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

Maryland voters will face an historically long ballot on Nov. 6, and with so many items to vote for, some could be overlooked, experts warn.

After Maryland residents vote for president, members of Congress and local officials, they will decide seven statewide ballot questions -- including same-sex marriage and gambling expansion -- and a varying number of local ballot questions. Prince George's County has seven questions, and Montgomery County has two.

(See sample ballots for Montgomery and Prince George's counties)

"This is historic," said Don Kettl, dean of the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy, explaining that a long ballot in Maryland is unusual because getting measures onto the ballot is difficult.

Language on the Maryland-wide ballot questions
Question 1: Requires judges of the Orphans' Court for Prince George's County to be admitted to practice law in this State and to be a member in good standing of the Maryland Bar.
Question 2: Requires judges of the Orphans' Court for Baltimore County to be admitted to practice law in this State and to be a member in good standing of the Maryland Bar.
Question 3: Changes the point at which an elected official charged with certain crimes is automatically suspended or removed from office. Under existing law, an elected official who is convicted or pleads no contest is suspended and is removed only when the conviction becomes final. Under the amended law, an elected official is suspended when found guilty and is removed when the conviction becomes final or when the elected official pleads guilty or no contest.
Question 4: Establishes that individuals, including undocumented immigrants, are eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at community colleges in Maryland, provided the student meets certain conditions relating to attendance and graduation from a Maryland high school, filing of income taxes, intent to apply for permanent residency, and registration with the selective service system (if required); makes such students eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at a four-year public college or university if the student has first completed 60 credit hours or graduated from a community college in Maryland; provides that students qualifying for in-state tuition rates by this method will not be counted as in-state students for purposes of counting undergraduate enrollment; and extends the time in which honorably discharged veterans may qualify for in-state tuition rates.
Question 5: Establishes the boundaries for the State's eight United States Congressional Districts based on recent census figures, as required by the United States Constitution.
Question 6: Establishes that Maryland's civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.
Question 7: Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education to authorize video lottery operation licensees to operate "table games" as defined by law; to increase from 15,000 to 16,500 the maximum number of video lottery terminals that may be operated in the State; and to increase from 5 to 6 the maximum number of video lottery operation licenses that may be awarded in the State and allow a video lottery facility to operate in Prince George's County?

The last time the state had almost as many ballot questions was in 1992, when there were six statewide questions.

As a result, the ballot could be daunting.

"Each step you go down that ballot, the likelihood of a less-informed voter knowing who these folks are and what the issues are decreases," said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland. President gets the most votes, federal elected offices slightly fewer and local elected offices even fewer. Ballot questions typically are at the bottom of the ballot.

During the last presidential election in 2008, 4 percent -- more than 106,000 -- of the people who voted for president did not cast a vote on whether the state should legalize slot machines, the second statewide ballot question that year, state Board of Elections records show.

Part of the reason could be fatigue, said John Fortier, director of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center. "You don't want to spend that much time in the voting booth."

Or some people could be intimidated.

"It's going to be a challenge ... to make sure people don't just walk in and leave in sort of a panic," said Kettl. If people have only 30 minutes off work, they might decide they don't have time to both wait in line and wade through the ballot, so they leave without voting.

With so many measures on the ballot, voters are less likely to spend much time trying to decipher a confusing question and will either skip it or "make their best guess," said Eberly. When people decide to vote on something they are unfamiliar with, they vote no.

"In general, the more complicated the ballot is, the easier it is for someone to throw up their hands and say, 'That's it, I'm out of here,' " said Kettl.

However, the high-profile issues on the ballot -- like the Dream Act, gay marriage, gambling and whether to throw out the redistricted congressional map -- might counter that effect and actually give people enough motivation to slog to the end.

Whom the overwhelmingly Democratic state is going to support in a presidential or senatorial race is usually a foregone conclusion, said Laura Hussey, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "Here citizens have an opportunity to weigh in, to cast a vote that means something."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner