Maryland Needs its Own Voting Rights Act

The Maryland Voting Rights Act (MDVRA)

Today, voters of color across the country are facing the greatest assault on their voting rights since the Jim Crow era. While some states are working to suppress voting abilities, through adopting a state-level Voting Rights Act, Maryland can set the standard for state-level protections for all resident voters. Even with Maryland’s progressive reputation and willingness to adopt protective reforms, there are still discriminatory barriers to equal participation in our democracy. These barriers disproportionately impact Black and Brown, first-time, rural, and limited English proficiency voters. By enacting the Maryland Voting Rights Act (MDVRA), the Free State can take a monumental step towards a future of fair and equal voting rights.

Maryland Voters Face Persistent Barriers and Discrimination

While Maryland has been among the most aggressive states to implement measures that make voting more equitable, Maryland voters still face barriers to reaching the ballot box. Though the state is moving in the right direction, having adopted numerous voter protection measures, conditions that can foster voting discrimination — such as unfair districts or at-large systems that weaken Black and Brown voting power, inaccessible polling locations, and insufficient language assistance for voters who don’t speak English — still occur across the state.

For example, Baltimore County enacted a discriminatory districting plan after the 2020 Census that undercut Black voters’ ability to elect preferred candidates.  Several counties and towns along the Eastern Shore have recently used at-large voting systems in communities where white voters and voters of color tend to vote for different candidates.  This allowed white majorities to control entire legislative bodies, even where there is a growing population of voters of color. These challenges persist in communities such as Havre de Grace where no Black person has ever been elected to town government. Because Maryland has one of the highest shares of Black and Brown residents in the country, it is vital that the state continue to implement reforms that will give Black and Brown, limited English proficient, rural, and first-time voters the tools needed to have their voices heard during elections. 

The MDVRA Will Protect Voters of Color and Strengthen Maryland’s Democracy

It’s time for Maryland to set a new standard for protecting the right to vote. The MDVRA will help Maryland fight discrimination at home and become a national leader on the right to vote. 

The MDVRA will do just that through:

Preclearance

The MDVRA would bring the framework of the most effective civil rights law in American history to Maryland. In passing the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, Congress recognized that case-by-case litigation alone was inadequate—too slow and too costly—to eradicate discrimination and to prevent its resurgence. Thus, instead of voters having to prove that new election laws and practices are discriminatory, jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination would need to have proposed election changes – such as redistricting –secure “preclearance” from the Maryland Attorney General or a court before they are enacted to demonstrate that the new systems will not disadvantage minority voters.

Prohibition Against Vote Denial and Dilution

The MDVRA provides a framework to address vote dilution and barriers that deny voting opportunities in a way that is efficient and cost-effective for both voters and local governments within the state, through enforcement either by the State Attorney General or private plaintiffs.

Language Access

The MDVRA would require local governments to ensure that non-English speakers are not left behind in the voting process. This section requires that in a locality with a population of two percent or more that are a language minority, the local government or board of elections provides voting materials in that additional language. No voter should be discouraged from voting because the voting materials were not provided in a language they can understand.

Stopping Voter Intimidation

This section provides Marylanders with a civil cause of action against voter intimidation, deception, or obstruction that is more important than ever today, given recent efforts to stoke fear, spread disinformation, and obstruct access to ballot box among eligible immigrant voters and communities of color

Statewide Database

The MDVRA offers Maryland an opportunity to bring its elections into the 21st Century by providing a central public repository for election and demographic data with the goal of fostering evidence-based practices in election administration and unprecedented transparency.

Making Private Enforcement Feasible

The MDVRA would ensure that there are adequate incentives for voters, advocacy organizations, and public-minded attorneys to protect voting rights by making available fees for attorneys and litigation costs when plaintiffs prevail.

The MDVRA Will Make Maryland a National Leader

The tremendous voter-suppression efforts that have arisen recently make this a perilous time for our democracy. Congress, the federal courts, and the states must stand up for voting rights. The whole nation needs Maryland’s example.

If passed, the MDVRA will be one of the most comprehensive state-level voting rights acts in the country, building on successful laws already on the books in New York, Connecticut, California, Washington, Oregon, and Virginia — and efforts under way now in New Jersey and Michigan.

Now is Maryland’s time to lead.

More on Voting Rights

Voting Rights

State VRAS can provide key protections to their constituents that prevent and guard against discriminatory voting practices and policies. Learn more about LDF’s work to advance state VRAs

LDF Original Content

A tandem approach of restoring and expanding federal voting rights legislation along with passing individual state VRAs is essential for providing the most robust voting protections for all voters.

LDF Original Content

How States with discriminatory maps have shirked their responsibilities to their constituents, paving the way for the passage of oppressive legislation.

LDF's Report on the 2020 Election

Democracy Defended

2020 saw a dramatic increase in attempts to suppress the vote of Black, Latinx, and other minority-community voters. Democracy Defended captures and analyzes LDF’s work during the 2020 election season, including our Prepared to Vote and Voting Rights Defender initiatives. It provides documentation of barriers faced by Black voters in PTV/VRD focus states and solutions for policy makers, election administrators, and community members to implement to ensure fair access to the vote in future elections.

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