Groups say ex-convicts deterred from voting
Civil rights organizations take Baltimore city elections board to task
While charges and countercharges of voter fraud have been raised nationally, two groups in Baltimore are concerned that 422 former convicts may have been disenfranchised because of letters from Baltimore city's elections board.
Critics charge that the letters, which sought information to verify parole status, did not include what information voter registration applicants had to submit, provide contact information or give a deadline date for turning in the information.
The letters, addressed to "applicant," were not on elections board letterhead and were unsigned by elections officials.
The Baltimore city NAACP and the African American Democratic Club of Baltimore City are holding a press conference today near the Baltimore City Board of Elections to call attention to the issue.
The board had sent 422 letters to those who had filled out voter registration applications after having previously lost their right to vote due to court convictions.
In Maryland, felons can reapply to vote once they have completed the terms of their sentence, including parole, said C.D. Witherspoon, president of the African American Democratic Club.
"We find it appalling that the Baltimore city election board will not correct their error," Witherspoon said, adding the board's decision would keep qualified voter registrants from being able to vote.
Meanwhile, Maryland Republicans say they are worried about "voter fraud" at the polls statewide.
Chris Cavey, chairman of the presidential campaign in Maryland for Sen. John McCain, said that the campaign has suggested to county coordinators that they have an observer on hand as local elections boards unveil voting machines and electronic poll books leading up to Election Day on Nov. 4.
The campaign will have an internal hot line, staffed by volunteer attorneys, for poll workers and county coordinators to report any Election Day problems they encounter. Such hot lines are typical of campaigns, Cavey said.
Voter fraud is "always a concern and a worry," he said.
Proving it is difficult, Cavey said. Voter integrity "has to be about one of the most important things that happens," he said.
In Baltimore city, Democrats worry the elections board tried to make it difficult for the ex-convicts to register as voters.
The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People found out about the letter from a person who received one, Witherspoon said. The NAACP worked with the person to have his voting right reinstated, he said.
The advocacy group The Lawyers Committee of Washington, D.C., is seeking others who received the letter so it can go to court to force the elections board to register them as voters in time for the general election.
Baltimore city elections director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. did not return calls for comment.
In a conference call Wednesday, a national organization said there have been numerous attempts at voter suppression across the country.
"There are massive attempts to confuse voters," said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of national civil rights and advocacy groups.
His organization has launched a new advertising campaign to run in black and Latino communities nationwide to alert voters of potential suppression efforts.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein announced Monday that a task force of FBI agents and state elections officials would investigate any allegations of election fraud or voting rights violations.
"Our goal is to prevent election fraud and preserve public confidence in the integrity of the democratic process," Rosenstein said in a statement.
"Fair elections are the foundation of American government. We will review all allegations in a nonpartisan manner and pursue any evidence that warrants criminal prosecution."
Staff Writer Sean Sedam
contributed to this story.