The Republican majority on the Montgomery County Board of Elections, led by an appointee of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), voted Monday to shift two heavily used early-voting sites to less populous locations, prompting Democratic charges of voter suppression.
The board voted 3 to 2 to move early voting from the Marilyn Praisner Community Center in Burtonsville, which serves high-poverty East County communities along U.S. 29, to the Longwood Community Recreation Center in Brookeville, 13 miles to the northwest.
The panel also shifted early balloting from the Jane Lawton Community Recreation Center in Chevy Chase, about a half-mile from the Bethesda Metro station, to the Potomac Community Recreation Center, on Falls Road, 10 miles to the northwest.
Unlike on Election Day, when voters must go to their assigned precincts, early-voting sites are open to all voters in the county. More than 8,000 people cast early ballots at the Lawton and Praisner centers in the 2014 general election, more than 20 percent of Montgomery’s total.
Under state law, the party of the sitting governor holds the majority on local election boards. The law also requires local boards to review its list of early-voting sites every two years and make recommendations to the State Board of Elections.
Board Chairman James Shalleck, Hogan’s appointee and the 2014 Republican candidate for Montgomery County executive, said Tuesday that Republicans on the board “wanted to expand the geographic reach of early voting.” He said the Brookeville site, two miles north of Olney, will serve a fast-growing and diverse community.
Potomac, Shalleck said, “has wanted a site, and they’ve never gotten one.”
The other seven early-voting sites were retained by the board. They are in Silver Spring, Rockville, Germantown, Gaithersburg, Damascus, Wheaton and Aspen Hill.
The board’s decision drew expressions of outrage Tuesday from Montgomery Democrats, who said the new Republican majority was steering early-voting sites into less accessible, less populous areas.
“It’s outrageous,” said County Council member Tom Hucker (D-Silver Spring), who represents Burtonsville and much of East County. “It’s a naked attempt at voter suppression. . . . The intent of the law is that you put these sites at locations where they are going to be maximally effective, without regard to party.”
Shalleck said that there was no partisan agenda behind the move and that neither the governor’s office nor state party leaders played a role.
“We voted to retain seven of the nine sites that had been previously approved by the Democratic-majority board,” he said.
Hogan spokesman Matt Clark said in a statement: “The governor’s office has provided no direction to any local election boards regarding voting locations. Governor Hogan supports efforts to make elections as open and fair as possible.”
Other Maryland jurisdictions have proposed site changes, none as yet generating much controversy. The Prince George’s County Board of Elections wants to move early balloting from the Bowie Community Center to the Bowie Gymnasium, just a few minutes’ drive away. Parking concerns prompted the decision, according to county Elections Administrator Alisha Alexander.
The Baltimore County board plans to change three sites, one undergoing renovations and another where parking issues had created tensions with property management. The third would shift to an area with a higher voting population.
The Baltimore City board proposes moving two sites: one from Edmondson High School to the Westside Skills Center for better parking, the other from St. Brigid’s Parish Hall, which is closing, to the Southeast Anchor Library.
Arelis R. Hernández contributed to this report.