ROCKVILLE – The state board of elections voted 4-1 on Oct. 31 not to approve an additional early voting site for Montgomery County during the 2020 primary and general elections, siding with the county board’s original decision.
Initially, the county board voted along party lines not to add the 12th early voting site, which the state legislature had made optional during a recent legislative session.
The majority of the county board cited the expense of a 12th site would be too costly. Several residents gave public comments about the proposed 12th site with some in favor and others not.
In fact, some who supported the additional site advocated for a location in White Oak.
The majority of the county board of elections is Republican. The state requires the majority of the governor-appointed board of elections to be of the same affiliation of the governor, and the majority be from the other party, Democrat or Republican.
Meanwhile, the entire county council, as well as the county executive and all elected positions, are members of the Democratic Party. The two sides did not agree on the early voting site issue.
County Councilmember Tom Hucker (D-5), whose district includes part of the east county had testified in support of a 12th site, explicitly naming the one in White Oak. He said he believed that residents in White Oak, many of whom rely on public transportation and early voting, require an additional early voting site closer to where they lived.
Following the county board’s decision, Hucker, County Executive Marc Elrich and county residents on Sept. 27 called for the county board of elections to hold an emergency meeting to reconsider adding a 12th site. Still, the board chose not to hold one.
After hearing complaints from the community about the decision, the state board held an emergency meeting in mid-October to listen to both sides of the matter.
The state board voted 4 -1 to ask the county board to provide a potential 12th site, and that the state board would vote after receiving the site, on the originally scheduled early voting approval day of Oct. 31.
The county board unanimously approved an amended motion to send two early voting sites, Nancy H. Dacek North Potomac Community Recreation Center and the White Oak Community Recreation Center (White Oak) in Silver Spring, instead of one to the state board and allow the state board to decide, first proposed by Shalleck. Shalleck later said that based on conversations he had with board members of both parties, he concluded the county board could not reach an agreement on one site.
On Oct. 31, state board members did discuss the two site options, but toward the end of their meeting after asking all their questions, some questioned why the dilemma went before the state board in the first place, given the county board’s majority vote not to add a new site.
“If they (Montgomery County) don’t want it, why are we here?” Board Member Malcolm Funn (D) asked about a proposed 12th early voting location.
Some said they never wanted to become involved in the politics of a potential 12th early voting site and that they would not choose one early voting site over the other.
Two different state board members called out the county board because the local board did not “work out” their disagreement about a potential site.
Board members said the site should have been resolved at the local level, where members of the board know the circumstances and factors surrounding the two locations they proposed.
Then, the board chairman said he believes that the state board should support the original county board decision – not to add the site because it was the local board’s responsibility to select a location.
Some said that if they picked between the two sites, that would suggest that they supported one side, politically.
Board Member William Voelp (R) said they wanted to respect the decision of the county board, given the state regulations on site selection.
Voelp said he “waffled” on the idea of overruling a county board when the state board voted to request a proposed early voting site.
Board member Kelley Howells (R) said she agreed about respecting the local board.
“Our regulations say that once a local board has selected an early voting site – if that site complies with (the requirements) the state board shall give deference to the local board’s decision,” Howells said. “That’s a really important regulation, and it binds us because we don’t want to get involved in these, especially once they’ve become politicized. That’s just not a good thing for the state board to do.”
Just before the county meeting, Elrich and all but one member of the county council wrote a letter to the county board of elections, writing that they supported an early voting site in White Oak and that would fund the expenses for that site, for both the primary and general elections in 2020.
Howells said she believes that the state board should not overrule a county board decision unless rule violations occurred. She said she thought the state did not have a good reason to overturn the county board’s decision, as they did not indicate lawbreaking or wrongdoing. Therefore, as during the previous meeting, Howells voted that she did not support adding a 12th early voting site.
Shalleck said he would not use the word happy to describe his reaction to the state board decision. Instead of that, he agrees with it and supports it.
During the discussion, Shalleck said while there is “no question” about the density in the Silver Spring area since there are two early voting sites that would serve that area already. A total of four sites lie in the east county area alone; other choices could benefit more from an additional early voting site. He said Poolesville residents have to drive a longer distance than many voters in the county.
County Board Secretary David Naimon (D) spoke Oct. 31 in support of the proposed White Oak location and said that the area of the Potomac community center had wait times of less than 15 minutes on election day, which was different from the two early voting sites accessible from parts of Silver Spring.
The county sent two sites to the state because the county board could not reach an agreement, Shalleck said, and he believed the state board would pick one of the two sites, based on whichever site they felt had more merit.
Eventually, a majority of the state board decided they did not want to overrule the county board’s decision.
Shalleck said he disagreed with the state board’s claims that the county board had made the choice political.
Hucker said he did not believe sending two sites, one for each political party, to the state board was the appropriate decision for the county board.
Del. Eric Luedtke (D- 14), whose district includes part of Silver Spring, announced he plans to introduce emergency legislation when the legislative session begins in January 2020 that would change the optional 12th early voting site to be mandatory.
At one point, the chairman said he believed Montgomery County’s board should redo all of the selections of the polling places for early voting so that it would meet voters’ needs within the required 11 sites. Hucker said he would support review if it were to occur.