The League of Women Voters of Calvert County is gearing up for the 2020 election with a series of events intended to educate voters and increase voter participation.
“It’s time to start thinking about the election,” said JC Hooker, newly minted president of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. “In 2018, the primary was in June. In 2020, it’s April 20.”
Hooker said the goal of the league is to educate voters and keep them engaged.
In order to do so, the local chapter is releasing its nonpartisan Maryland Voter Bill of Rights at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Calvert Library’s Prince Frederick branch.
The two-page publication informs voters of their election rights, important election dates, voter registration requirements, explains the provisional and mail-in balloting process and provides frequently asked questions on a myriad of topics.
“We are trying to get it into the hands of Calvert County citizens so they are informed,” Hooker said, noting that there are gray areas the league needs to clarify for voters regarding age, changes in the law, absentee ballots, party-affiliation, transparency and more.
Gladys White, co-chair of the league’s voter services committee which drafted the document, said the impetus for the bill of rights arose when some people voiced concerns about the 2018 election process.
White said one woman reported that she was asked for identification at one polling location, while another said she witnessed someone being turned away.
“It dawned on me that people really don’t know what their rights are,” White said.
According to the League of Women Voters’ bill of rights, voters have a right to know why they are being asked to show identification, and that people will be asked to provide identification if they are a first-time voter and they registered by mail and did not provide a valid form of identification.
Individuals will also be asked for identification if they are registering to vote or changing their address during the early voting period.
“If you make a mistake on your ballot you can request a new ballot as long as it has not been scanned,” White said.
“If you are on probation or parole — you still have the right to vote. Those things people may not know,” White explained, pointing to the second page of the Bill of Rights.
White said the Voter Services Committee reached out to the local board of election to get pros, cons and recommendations on its first draft.
“It’s good to work with people and not against them,” White said of the partnership on refining the document.
White said Calvert County Elections Administrator Gail Hatfield and election board registrar Paula Bailey “tweaked it a little.”
"We feel it’s very important to work with the league as a nonpartisan group in assisting us to get out into the communities to register voters and supply valuable election information," said Hatfield, confirming they met with LWVCC to discuss and review the Bill of Rights and added specific dates and times that apply to the upcoming elections.
Representatives from the board of elections will also be present at the Sept. 17 event to answer any questions, as well as conduct voter registration training, for anyone who desires to sign people up to vote.
“Hopefully it will better educate the voter about the process,” White said. “An informed voter can make better judgement calls.”
Group plans to hold voter registration
The League of Women Voters and its outreach partners will also hold voter registration 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 24 and Oct. 2 at the College of Southern Maryland’s Prince Frederick Campus’ A and B atriums.
“Sept. 24 is actually National Voter Registration Day and the group will participate in that national event by registering students,” said Janet Bellizzi, co-chair of the league’s voter services committee.
“That’s the one group that is absent — has the lowest turnout,” Hooker said.
“The 18 to 29 age group is generally underrepresented,” Bellizzi said.
Bellizzi said that even though the observation is one day a year, the League of Women Voters scheduled two events so they can capture as much of the student population as possible by hosting the event on a Tuesday and Wednesday to address the alternating schedules of students. Bellizzi said they also opened up training for students at the College of Southern Maryland campus to register other students to vote. They are also trying to engage students, not just register to vote, but to encourage their friends to register and vote as well.
“Students are more apt to peer pressure than from adults that they don’t know. They are able to connect better with other students,” Bellizzi said.
Last year the league registered 55 voters at its National Voter Registration Day events. This year’s goal is 100.
Bellizzi said “it’s one thing to register, another thing is to show up at the polls.”
Anyone interested in attending needs to register at www.signupgenius.com/go/805084faaac2aa7f49-voter. Anyone interested in receiving a copy of the Maryland Voter Bill of Rights in English or Spanish, can email a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.