Annapolis, Md. Early voting in Maryland is illegal, a judge ruled Friday, but he allowed elections officials to continue preparing to allow people to cast ballots beginning five days before next month's primary.
Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Ronald Silkworth ruled that the state constitution allows voting only on a single day in November, not for several days. Silkworth also ruled that it would be illegal to permit voters to cast ballots outside their home precincts, as allowed under the new early voting law.
"The General Assembly exceeded its constitutional authority in enacting the early voting statutes," Silkworth wrote in his opinion.
The judge, however, issued a stay allowing preparations for early voting to continue until the Maryland Court of Appeals hears an appeal by the state.
A hearing was expected by the end of August, according to a statement issued by the attorney general's office. Early voting was to be used for the first time in the state in the primary election set for Sept. 12.
Silkworth ruled in a lawsuit filed by three voters who oppose early voting. One of them, Marirose Joan Capozzi, said she was delighted by the ruling because she feared fraud if early voting was allowed.
Early voting became law this year when the Democratic Legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
Ehrlich, who is seeking a second term this fall, said Friday in a statement that he supports the "concept" of early voting and wants to work with the General Assembly to craft new legislation to address the issue.
"Early voting in and of itself is a good thing," said Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party. But she cited the lack of a paper trail and the fact that the Legislature also approved no-excuse absentee balloting, which she said makes early voting unnecessary.
Democrats have insisted the early voting would be secure.
"Early voting is a valued, safe and secure resource that gives voters more opportunity and convenience to exercise their franchise in more than 30 other states across the country," Democratic spokesman David Paulson said.