Commissioners President Blaine Young is looking to offer Frederick County as a testing ground for a voter identification requirement.
The proposal, which would have to clear the state Legislature, is not so much targeted to fix a local problem as to illustrate a point, said Young, who means to discuss the plan at today's commissioners meeting.
"I don't think that there's a lot of voter fraud in Frederick County, but I do believe there is voter fraud in other areas. So let us be the pilot program," Young said. "Let us show you that it can be done."
Under the plan, voters would have to prove their identity before casting a ballot in 2014. Election officials would accept a variety of documents -- a driver's license, passport, birth certificate, Social Security card or voter identification card all would do the trick.
Voters could also bring the free specimen ballots mailed to their homes before Election Day, putting to rest concerns that providing ID would be costly, said Ragen Cherney, the county's legislative services coordinator.
Those who lack the necessary proof at the polls could use a provisional ballot, which would give them some time to produce documentation, Cherney said.
But David Rocah, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, says the proposal would still disenfranchise certain groups in the name of an invisible dilemma.
"It's a remarkably poorly thought out, unconstitutional solution to a nonexistent problem," Rocah said. "Frederick County doesn't get to create its own rules for who can vote in federal and state elections."
According to Rocah, the Maryland Constitution lays down the criteria for eligible voters. Setting up a voter ID requirement would mean amending the state constitution, he said.
Cherney said the current proposal is to introduce Young's plan as a standard piece of legislation, not a constitutional change.
Jeffrey Darsie, legal counsel for the Maryland State Board of Elections, said without seeing the specifics of Young's plan, he did not want to comment on whether a state constitutional amendment would be needed.
If passed, the proposed pilot program would kick in during the 2014 elections. The ID requirement would sunset after the elections, and lawmakers could decide whether to continue it or even expand it to the rest of the state, Young said.
Rocah argued that the new hurdles to voting would especially hamper certain groups, such as the elderly, minorities and the poor.
Many people don't drive, and securing the needed documentation could cost money they don't have. Though the specimen ballot is free, a voter might not remember to bring it to the polls or the Postal Service might not deliver it properly, he said.
Numerous voter identification bills have been launched in the Maryland General Assembly, but lawmakers have shot them down.
Delegate Kathy Afzali, R-District 4A, who has sponsored voter ID bills for the past two legislative sessions, said she likes Young's idea but is less than optimistic about its chances of success in the statehouse. But far from squelching the voices of certain groups, she said, an ID requirement fosters voter participation.
"One fraudulent vote steals the vote of a legitimate voter," she said. "Voter ID doesn't inhibit the vote. It does free the vote."
Young asserts that voter fraud is a problem in Maryland, pointing to Wendy Rosen as an example. Rosen, a Democratic congressional candidate in the 1st District, dropped out of the race last month after her party reported that she was registered to vote in Maryland and Florida and had cast ballots in both states in recent elections.
Young wants to add the voter identification proposal to Frederick County's legislative package. Each year, county lawmakers head to the Maryland General Assembly with a wish list of bills crafted by local leaders.
Except for the voter ID idea, this year's legislative package is shaping up much like the one submitted last year. The legislative proposals are headed to a Tuesday public hearing and a commissioner vote Nov. 1.