Bowing to three weeks of pressure from Democrats, the head of Montgomery County’s Board of Elections said Monday that he will propose that the Republican-majority panel retain one of the two heavily used early-voting sites it had voted last month to move.
“I’m trying to reach a compromise,” board President James Shalleck said. “I’ve heard from the public. We’re certainly sensitive to the public and the voters.”
Shalleck has scheduled a special board meeting for 5 p.m. Wednesday at the county elections offices in Gaithersburg to recommend that the Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center in Burtonsville continue as an early-voting spot. But Shalleck maintained that the other site, at the Jane E. Lawton Community Recreation Center in Chevy Chase, should be shifted to Potomac in the interests of “geographic diversity” for balloting centers.
The county’s nine early balloting sites, which drew more than 35,000 voters in the 2014 general election, are scheduled to be reviewed by the Maryland Board of Elections on Thursday. Shalleck, appointed to his post by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), said he wanted to resolve disagreement and go to Annapolis with “a unified board.”
But board Democrats said Shalleck is unlikely to achieve agreement. David Naimon, a Democratic member of the Elections Board, called Shalleck’s proposal a “half-measure” and said Montgomery Democrats would continue to push for restoration of both sites.
“Shalleck is only dealing with half the issue,” said Mary Ann Keefe, the board’s other Democrat.
Under state law, the party that controls the governor’s office holds the majority on state and local election boards. The Montgomery board voted 3 to 2 along party lines Sept. 21 to move two early-voting sites: the Praisner Center, which serves high-poverty East County communities along U.S. 29, and the Lawton Center, which is about a half-mile from the Bethesda Metro station.
The Praisner site would be replaced by Longwood Community Recreation Center near Olney, while the Lawton location would shift to Potomac Community Recreation Center, on Falls Road 10 miles to the northwest.
Montgomery residents can vote at any early balloting location. The seven sites retained by the Republican board’s vote last month are in Silver Spring, Rockville, Germantown, Gaithersburg, Damascus, Wheaton and Aspen Hill.
Democrats hold a 3-to-1 registration edge over the GOP in Montgomery. The board’s move touched off bitter protests that board Republicans were trying to suppress votes by shifting early balloting to venues less conveniently located and not as well served by public transportation. The Burtonsville and Bethesda sites registered about a quarter of the total early vote in 2014.
Democrats also filed complaints with Maryland’s Open Meetings Compliance Board after Shalleck disclosed at an Oct. 1 County Council hearing that he conferred by phone with county GOP leaders and Republican board members before shifting the two locations.
Shalleck said his only goal was to bring early voting to communities where access had been limited.
Unlike the county boards, the state election board, which also has a 3-to-2 Republican edge, requires a 4-to-1 super-majority to approve the sites, meaning any state board action will require at least one Democratic vote. County board members said Monday that it was not clear what the next steps would be if the state board rejected the sites as proposed.