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House: Election Law - Voter Registration and Absentee Voting - Proof of Citizenship

HB 1076, Oppose

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public-policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.

HB 1076 would require individuals who apply to register to vote after June 30, 2015 to submit specified documents as proof of U.S. citizenship in order to vote and apply for an absentee ballot.

A standing teaching of the Catholic Church is that all people have a moral obligation to participate in public life. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has specifically stated that, “Participation in political life in light of fundamental moral principles is an essential duty for every Catholic and all people of good will” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 2011).

Therefore, the Conference opposes legislation that interferes with one’s ability to fulfill this moral obligation. The requirement to submit proof of citizenship may unintentionally disenfranchise a large population of people from registering to vote and make registering to vote more cumbersome at a time when voter turnout for elections has been declining in Maryland. Requiring proof of citizenship intentionally excludes Legal Permanent Residents (LPR) from registering to vote when they have gone through the legal process to obtain a green card. An unintentional effect of this legislation would disenfranchise low income and homeless Marylanders who may have difficulty in obtaining the documentation needed to prove their citizenship. For example, when someone in poverty has a tight budget, it adds undue financial strain to obtain copies of documentation s/he may or may not have in his/her possession already just to register to vote. Furthermore, proof of citizenship simply makes the process more cumbersome for anyone to register to vote even when obtaining the proper documentation is not a problem. For instance, students who are in college may not keep certain forms of documentation with them and be hindered from applying for absentee ballots. When populations are excluded from the ability to vote, it sends a message that legislators do not want them to have a say in the public square nor in the policies that affect their lives.

The Conference appreciates your consideration and urges you to oppose HB 1076.