After much protest and condemnation from Maryland Democrats, the Montgomery County Board of Elections (BOE) has decided to reverse its plan to replace the early voting sites in Burtonsville and Chevy Chase.
The sites are both situated in highly Democratic concentrated down county Montgomery County. The centers would have been replaced with ones in Potomac and Brookville, both affluent and somewhat GOP friendly areas.
The five-member BOE, with three Republican officials, settled on their initial decision by a 3-2 vote, dividing along party lines. The seemingly partisan decision ignited anger among Democrats throughout the county, who argued public transportation was more accessible in Burtonsville and Chevy Chase and thus, voter turnout would be higher.
The State Board of Elections blocked the county BOE’s earlier plan and asked the Board to propose one. Unanimously, the Board decided to reverse its decision and implement a plan that initiates legislative efforts towards the creation of more early voting sites.
State law mandates all Board of Elections to have a party majority of the current Governor’s political party. Thus, the Montgomery County Board of Election is likely to stay GOP controlled at least until 2019. The Board’s settlement shows another victory for Maryland Democrats as they continue to fight with other GOP dominated Board of Elections in the state.
Brent Jamsa, a sophomore at Quince Orchard High School, expressed his relief towards the Board’s decision. “I am glad Democrats and Republicans were able to come to a solution that benefited everyone. Both sites slated to be dropped will now be restored and in return, lawmakers will advocate for more sites in Montgomery County.”
David Edimo, a junior at Richard Montgomery High School and president of the county, high school student government, was more disappointed in the settlement, hoping for more action from the state. “Rather than relocating early voting sites from one place to another, our state should work toward expanding early voting opportunities to as many people as possible, regardless of where they live. The State should also consider other methods of expanding democracy, like the Governor’s proposed independent redistricting commission.”
Both the Jane Lawton Community Recreation Center in Chevy Chase and the Marilyn Praisner Community Center in Burtonsville were highly popular centers during the 2014 general and primary election. If the Lawton Center were removed, the Silver Spring Civic Building would have been the only major early voting site opened inside the Capital Beltway during the 2016 election.
Before the Board announced their plans to reverse their decision, Shalleck attempted to reassure the public that the Board’s decision was based on growing populations and “geographic diversity” rather than partisan politics, never mentioning any specific reason for the Board’s decision to replace the sites in Burtonsville and Chevy Chase.
Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat running for an open seat in the U.S. Senate in 2016, previously sent a letter to the Maryland State Board of Elections, urging them to reverse the order. After the restoration of the early voting sites, Representative Chris Van Hollen released the following statement: “This decision is great news for voters in Montgomery County and the health of Maryland’s democracy. I was proud to join with thousands of concerned citizens to urge the Maryland State Board of Elections to reverse course and prevent undue obstacles to voting. Today we have proof that positive change is possible when citizens are actively engaged and working to improve their communities.”
The Montgomery County Council President, George Leventhal, was also pleased by the decision, explaining, “Brookeville is a very pleasant community. But it’s mostly rural. It’s close to Howard County. It does not maximize convenience and access.”
Currently, the Board of Elections is focusing its attention on increasing the number of early voting sites. Shalleck recently said many Montgomery lawmakers have agreed to sponsor a bill that would allow for a 10th site in Potomac.