Holly Briscoe didn’t even read her notice for jury duty. She probably sniffed it. Maybe she licked it. She possibly chewed it. But read it she did not.
Holly, after all, is a dog.
Mabel Mackall Briscoe, 82, was surprised when her 3-year-old Jack Russell Terrier received her notice this April. A resident of Calvert County, Md., located about 30 miles southeast of Washington, D.C., Briscoe wondered how a mistake like this could have occurred.
Then she remembered a civic shenanigan she carried out a couple years before in mock political protest. What she thought was a harmless stunt at the time turned into a bureaucratic nightmare.
Motor Voter Follies
Former President Bill Clinton signed the National Voter Registration Act, dubbed the "motor voter" bill, into law in 1993. The bill was an effort to help ease the voter registration process by expanding the number of locations and opportunities for people to register to vote.
At the time, critics said it would make registration too easy, would be prone to abuse, and would make voting fraud easier as a result.
Briscoe is one of those critics. She believes motor voter makes it possible for just about anyone — from non-U.S. citizens, those under 18 years of age, and criminals — to register. To test her suspicion, she attempted to register her dog Holly through the motor voter program two years ago.
After calculating the age of her pooch in dog years — 18 years old — Briscoe filled out a voter registration application she had picked up at the Motor Vehicle Administration while waiting in line to renew her driver’s license.
She wrote the dog’s name, "Holly," the dog’s address in Sunderland, Md. and Holly’s party affiliation, "Independent," on the form. She then signed the document, "Holly Briscoe."
The Calvert County Board of Elections received Holly’s registration application by mail on July 2, 1999, according to registrar Charlene Sparrow. "In the state of Maryland, identification is not required, just the sworn signature," Sparrow told Fox News.
Who Let the Dogs Out? Briscoe Comes Clean
Mabel Briscoe never planned to bring Holly to the polls, and the dog never voted, not even a "woof" for Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening. Satisfied that her personal experiment in civic disobedience had proved her point — to herself, anyway — Briscoe forgot about it.
But when a Maryland resident is registered to vote, his or her name becomes available to the court system for the jury pool. So when Holly's jury notice came, Mabel realized what had happened and figured she'd correct the record.
So in April, Briscoe contacted the elections board in Prince Frederick, Md., and asked what she should do with Holly’s jury notice, admitting that Holly was her dog.
But apparently Briscoe barked up the wrong bureaucratic tree in trying to correct the record. Not finding her experiment either humorous or instructive, Briscoe was charged by the state of Maryland with false registration for "willfully and knowingly violat[ing] the voter registration law by falsifying a name and misrepresenting facts on a registration."
Charges, which carried a prison sentence of up to five years and/or $1,000 fine, were dropped this week after Briscoe agreed to community service next Election Day.
Briscoe was being represented pro bono by Maryland State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., a Democrat. "I’ve known and admired Mrs. Briscoe for years," Miller said. "She’s a very gentile, elderly lady who believes she was performing a public service." Miller has instructed Briscoe not to speak to the press.
"You need criminal intent in order to be prosecuted," Miller said. "She did not intend to break the law."
'The Whole Election Procedure Should Be Overhauled'
Maurice Hardesty, a Sunderland grocer who has known the Briscoe family for years, said his country store is buzzing with talk of Holly.
"Most of the blame, as far as I'm concerned, is with the election board for not checking the application," said Hardesty. "I think the whole election procedure should be overhauled."
Briscoe’s day in court was scheduled for July 20, but Miller said June 11 he was confident that an agreement would be reached with the state beforehand. "The state attorney is a very reasonable person and I am a very reasonable person," he said. "I’m certain he will not press for a conviction."
Miller said June 11 if it came down to a trial, he could not imagine a jury that would be unsympathetic to Briscoe. "She never tried to have the dog vote," he pointed out. "And now there is a heightened awareness for the need for more checks and balances on our motor voter system."