Beginning last month, Maryland became the 10th state in the nation, along with the District of Columbia, to enact a voter registration system that automatically puts residents on the voter rolls when using a social service agency, obtaining a driver’s license or even getting a new state identification card. Passed largely along party lines, with Democrats helping to pass this new law earlier this year during the Maryland General Assembly; the party of Andrew Jackson and Barack Obama touted this as being a tool that would help increase voter turnout and participation in local elections.
Problem is, it seems to be increasing turnout too much, enabling minors to become a part of a system that legally they are not allowed to participate.
Earlier this month, Kalil Jaymar Jones – a sixteen-year old Howard County resident – went to the Motor Vehicle Administration with his mother in order to obtain a new state ID. An excited Jones had just had a birthday two weeks prior and was ready to begin the process of finally being able to obtain a driver’s license. But instead of taking the learners permit right away, he decided to get the MVA booklet and study some more before taking the multiple-choice exam. But he did finally get a state-issued identification while he was there, and that enabled state employees to fraudulently issue him a voter registration card.
Asked whether he would like to become a voter in the future, he agreed, after asking his politically-conscious mother what party affiliation he should select. They thought nothing of the question asked by the MVA employee, since young Mr. Jones wouldn’t turn eighteen – the legal age to participate in federal, state and local elections – until August 2021.
(In Maryland, citizens can register to vote at the age of sixteen, as long as they are set to turn eighteen on or before the date of the next General Election. That date is set for November 3, 2020 – nine months before Kalil’s eighteenth birthday.)
But unbeknownst to Mr. Jones or his mother, he was in fact registered to vote and recently sent a voter registration card in the mail, allowing him to participate in next year’s hotly contested Presidential Election. And it was this very reason that Maryland Republicans urged state lawmakers not to vote to allow for such a law to take place here in Maryland; and why GOP Governor Larry Hogan decided to let the bill become law without his signature.
When Kalil’s mother contacted me to inquire about the voting age in Maryland, which she thought was still eighteen, she was shocked to find out that it was still the age requirement; and furious that they would send her son a voter registration card knowing full well he wasn’t legally permitted to participate in any election – or risk being charged and convicted of voter fraud.
“I was fortunate enough to have someone I could turn to and contact that I knew would have the answer, which I believed to be true the entire time,” said Ms. Jones. “But think of all the sixteen year old minors, if not younger, across this state who may receive their voter cards in the mail thanks to this new law, and their parents take them to vote next year only to have somebody challenge their eligibility and hold them responsible for what the state screwed up.”
After reaching out to the state board of elections to inquire about this matter, I was told by one source that these minors are registered to vote but are put on the “inactive rolls” which would prevent them from voting if they showed up. However, nowhere on the voter registration card itself does it state that young Kalil is not registered to vote, or on any inactive roll; meaning had we had not had a conversation about this matter, he could have, and would have, very well showed up to vote during next year’s Primary and General Elections – only to later find out that he wasn’t able to vote.
But who’s to say that he would be turned away. Given the thousands of voting irregularities that we have witnessed across Maryland over the years, including over 1700 irregularities in Baltimore City’s 2016 primary election alone; how are we to be certain that poorly trained poll workers and election judges wouldn’t mistakenly allow someone with a voter registration card to cast their ballot not knowing they are on this “inactive roll”.
While I agree that we should do everything we can to make registering to vote and casting your ballot as simplistic as possible, and available to as many potential voters as possible; we should rethink the way we are handling this new automatic voter registration process, and lawmakers should reconsider the possible ramifications of this new law. I mean whose to say that if minors are being given voter registration cards without question when obtaining licenses or ID’s, how do we know that those in this country illegally aren’t also being afforded the same opportunity to now be legally able to cast a ballot in US elections?