The Montgomery County Board of Elections ended nearly a month of partisan wrangling Monday by voting unanimously to restore a Bethesda community center to its list of nine early balloting sites for 2016.
The Republican majority on the five-member board had little choice after the Maryland Board of Elections last week rejected its plan to drop the Jane Lawton Community Recreation Center in favor of the Potomac Community Recreation Center on Falls Road, about 10 miles away.
But the county board also called on state lawmakers to introduce emergency legislation expanding the number of early voting sites in the county to 10 so that Potomac can be added.
The actions put to rest a controversy triggered Sept. 21 when the board voted 3 to 2 along party lines to move early voting sites from Bethesda to Potomac, and from the Marilyn Praisner Community Recreation Center in Burtonsville to the Longwood Community Recreation Center near Olney.
Democrats contended that the moves amounted to voter suppression by shifting early voting to sites that are less populous and not as well served by public transportation. The Praisner center, used by low-income communities along Route 29 in the eastern county, was Montgomery’s second-busiest early voting venue in the 2014 general election. Lawton, though one of the least-frequented sites, is in a densely populated urban area a half-mile from the Bethesda Metro station. About 35,000 Montgomery residents voted early in 2014.
Board Republicans tried to calm protests by returning Praisner to the early voting list this month. But Democrats were not satisfied. The Maryland Board of Elections, which is supposed to review and approve early voting sites, could not reach a required 4 to 1 supermajority on the matter and punted back to the local board.
Montgomery Board President Jim Shalleck, an appointee of Gov. Larry Hogan, was visibly relieved after Monday’s vote.
“Done,” he said.