Finding election judges to work the polls on Election Day is never easy, but Montgomery County officials are finding that it's even tougher this year because of the federal Voting Rights Act.
Under the law, approved by Congress in 1965 and subsequently amended over the years, jurisdictions must offer non-English instructions and ballots if 5 percent of the voting-age population speaks a particular language.
Montgomery, where about 9 percent of residents of voting age are Hispanic, has been struggling to meet that requirement since the Department of Justice ordered the county in 2002 to begin offering voting instructions in Spanish.
During the general election that year, the county could muster bilingual or Spanish-speaking judges for only 47 of its 235 polling places, prompting rebukes from some Latino activists.
This year, county election officials have begun an effort to make sure all polling places have at least one Spanish-speaking election judge.
"We want to make sure everyone votes," said Gilberto Zelaya, multicultural liaison for the Board of Elections.
While Zelaya said the board has found a number of Spanish-speaking residents who want to be judges in the southern and eastern part of the county, it still needs bilingual judges in less developed areas, such as Poolesville, Damascus and Barnesville.
And the criteria for qualifying for the job, which pays between $120 and $130 for a day's work, are low.
"We are not looking for individuals who are Spanish linguists," Zelaya said. "We just want someone who feels comfortable communicating in Spanish. You know: 'Good morning. Hello. How are you? Your name here. Use this to vote.' Very simple things."
More application details are available in the brief article below on this page.
He of Little Faith
The chairman of the Maryland Republican Party doesn't have much confidence in his party's ability to reclaim the 8th Congressional District seat from the Democrats this year.
After defeating Republican Constance A. Morella two years ago, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) is being challenged this year by GOP nominee Chuck Floyd.
Traditionally, freshmen congressmen are most vulnerable during their first attempt at reelection. But on WTOP radio's Politics Hour last week, state GOP Chairman John Kane said Floyd didn't stand much of a chance this year in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2 to 1.
"Odds are anyone can win as long as they're Democrat," Kane said on the radio, referring to the district that former governor Parris N. Glendening and the Democrats in the General Assembly redrew to help assure Morella's defeat in 2002.
In an interview later, Kane said he was being a political realist.
"I feel better about President Bush winning the presidential race than I do about Chuck Floyd winning his congressional race," Kane said.
But Kane said Floyd could have a better shot should he chose to run again in 2006.
"I think Floyd's strategy [this year] is to run a competitive race, get his name out there and get his message out and then run a second time," Kane said.
Not so, says Floyd, a retired military officer and former State Department employee.
"I am planning on winning this time," Floyd said in an interview. "We are giving Van Hollen a very, very close race."
Floyd said that while Kane "has a right to say whatever he wants," he does not think the chairman -- who lives in Potomac -- has his pulse on the 8th District. "He is at the state party doing other things," Floyd said. "We have talked to 15,000 voters in the county, and they have no idea who Van Hollen is."
Kensington Joins Smoking Ban
Another Montgomery County town is moving to implement the countywide smoking ban approved last year even as one Rockville family is citing the law in its decision to close its well-known restaurant.
Last week, Kensington Mayor Kitty L. Raufaste sent a letter to County Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) requesting that the county begin enforcing the smoking ban in her town.
When the council passed the ordinance last summer, it exempted the county's incorporated towns because of concerns it did not have the authority to impose the smoking ban on those communities.
Several of those towns, including Rockville and Gaithersburg, have since enacted smoking bans on their own.
The Kensington Town Council was planning to take up the issue this fall, Raufaste said. But the mayor and the town attorney have decided county law already covers the town. Kensington's town code says restaurants in the town of 1,900 should abide by the county's health and sanitation regulations, under which the smoking ban falls.
"I felt it looked like we were completely covered by the county code," Raufaste said. "I don't know why it was thought by anyone we weren't covered from the very beginning."
Raufaste said the ordinance means one restaurant in the town, Savannah's, will have to stop allowing its patrons to smoke.
County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg), one of the co-sponsors of the legislation, says Poolesville is the only place in Montgomery County where bar and restaurant patrons can still smoke. "They are the last holdout," Andrews said.
Andrews said the ban has not harmed the county's restaurant industry. But don't tell that to the owners of the Anchor Inn Seafood Restaurant.
This month, the Wheaton restaurant closed it doors after owners said the smoking ban cost them as much as 40 percent of their bar business. The business, at University Boulevard and Georgia Avenue, has been sold to a developer.
"It has really hurt a lot of businesses," said Selby Scaggs, whose father opened the business 50 years ago.
WSSC Gets Award
Finally, some good news for the beleaguered Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.
After months of negative headlines about political infighting at the water and sewer agency, the utility announced this week that it has won a top award from a nonprofit organization representing the nation's largest publicly owned water systems.
The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies will present the WSSC with its Platinum Award for Sustained Competitiveness Achievement at a ceremony in October in St. Petersburg, Fla. The accolade honors "the long-term accomplishments of forward-thinking executives whose careers reflect exemplary effectiveness in water system management," according to the group's Web site.
Praise for the agency's top executives must be a welcome change for General Manager John R. Griffin and his deputy, P. Michael Errico. The agency's six-member board tried to fire them in February and decided this month to pay each more than $250,000 to step down.
At least Diane VanDe Hei, the association's executive director, seems to appreciate the managers' work. "WSSC is a proven municipal water leader," she said in a statement.