Sunday, August 10, 2008
Something Can Be Done About Lines at the Polls
"There's not a thing we can do to avoid the long lines on Election Day" [Southern Maryland Extra, Aug. 7]. That's what we're hearing from Maryland election officials. And that's no surprise: These officials work for the state administrator, and it's her position that nothing can be done about the inevitable lines.
And why are they inevitable? Because voters don't go to the polls in equal numbers throughout the day. The heavy voting hours are 7 to 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. until the polls close. Most people can vote only before or after their jobs. With an average of 10 or 12 voting machines per precinct, there are going to be times when those wanting to vote will be waiting in line for an hour or more.
So, across the state, hundreds or perhaps thousands of Maryland residents will be denied the right to vote in November because they can't wait one or more hours. They have jobs to go to, kids to take care of and dinners to fix.
What would happen if all of the machines in a precinct crashed? There's a procedure to meet that contingency. It's called emergency paper ballots. So why not say that when more than an hour's worth of voters are in line, that's an emergency, and we'll let them vote on paper ballots if they choose?
That question has been asked repeatedly of the state administrator of elections, and the answer is always that it's not possible. Many excuses have been offered, but none explains why it's possible to provide paper ballots when the machines crash but not when the lines are long enough to disenfranchise voters.
This is a matter for the State Board of Elections, not the administrator, to decide. It's time for the board to step up and direct the administrator to issue instructions to her local officials stating that when the line is longer than a specified length, paper ballots will be offered. Otherwise, some Marylanders will be denied their vote in November because "nothing could be done about it."
Losing a Golf Course, Gaining a Subdivision
The future of the Twin Shields Golf Course in Dunkirk appears in doubt. It might close and be replaced by a 51-home subdivision.
The owners have already submitted a subdivision application. It is expected to be presented to the Calvert County Planning Commission by the fall, providing the initial steps to close what has been a recreational institution for nearly 40 years.
As property owners, Karen and Diane Shields are within their rights to make this business decision. The effect on the community, besides the obvious loss of a business and jobs and the increase in housing units, has not yet been fully described. The Dunkirk Area Concerned Citizens Association has previously advised developers of the critical need to quickly inform neighbors who would be most affected.
In 2007, Twin Shields sent a letter to their members advising them of work during spring 2007, unrelated to the maintenance of the golf course. In part, the owners described their land as having more value when used for real estate development.
Significant planning has been underway in the past year, including discussions with the county's planning staff. When will the closing occur and housing construction begun? The Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance is designed to align subdivision development with the capacity of the local schools to handle the resulting population growth. Under APFO guidelines, this subdivision could take seven years or more.
In the meantime, Twin Shields has every intention to continue as a golf course. This course was built by Karen and Diane's father and his twin brother, hence the name Twin Shields.
Transportation Essential To Region's Economy
For the past year, I have participated with my elected colleagues in the work of the Commission to Study Southern Maryland Transportation Needs. I have served as the Charles County commissioners' representative and as chairman of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, which facilitated the study. The final report of the commission has just been completed. It lays the foundation for our advocacy of the region's transportation priorities and will serve as a guide for state and federal investment in our infrastructure.
Such investment will be critical to meet the diverse transportation needs of our residents and fuel our future economic growth and competitiveness. The commission's report presents an integrated strategy that includes highways, mass transit and bridges. No single facility or improvement will meet all of our current or future needs.
A comprehensive, coordinated package of improvements will be required. For example, in Charles County, a western bypass of Waldorf is needed to facilitate the flow of north-south interstate traffic without routing it through the center of Waldorf. A limited upgrade of Route 301 through Waldorf will protect our local business base and create a "boulevard" to promote the development of a more cohesive urban community not divided by a "river of concrete."
Commuter bus service is being improved and expanded with more express bus routes and park-and-ride lots. But we need to accelerate planning for high-capacity fixed-rail transit service from Waldorf and White Plains to the Branch Avenue Metro station to meet the needs of the tens of thousands who commute from Southern Maryland every day.
Southern Maryland is the state's fastest-growing region but is the only area west of the Chesapeake Bay without passenger rail service. In other regions of Maryland, there are plans to expand or improve rail service or build new routes, such as the Purple Line.
The commission recognized the need to move high-capacity transit service in the routes 301 and 5 corridor off the "back burner" as one of the region's top priorities for state and federal action. This priority has also been endorsed by the boards of county commissioners of Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert counties, the Prince George's County Council and the Tri-County Council.
In a critical first step toward this goal, the Maryland Transit Administration is engaged in a $4 million transit corridor alignment study. It will delineate the path of a future light rail line so that right-of-way can be preserved and land use and growth policies that support transit can be put in place by Charles and Prince George's counties.
Our future competitiveness as a county and as a region depends on an efficient transportation system. Over the past generation, we have built one of Maryland's strongest regional economies. Our residents have waited patiently for the critically needed transportation improvements that are suggested in the commission's final report. Now is the time to present our priorities with a renewed sense of urgency and a call for bold action by our state and federal leaders.
Gary V. Hodge,
Charles County commissioner