Local Democrats Rally Against Early Voting Sites Decision Before Crucial Week

The State Board of Elections is scheduled Thursday to review the county Board of Election’s controversial decision


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Local Democratic activists rally with elected officials Saturday in Chevy Chase

Aaron Kraut

If the State Board of Elections approves the controversial decision to replace early voting sites in Burtonsville and Chevy Chase with sites in Brookeville and Potomac, the next course of action for local Democrats could be a lawsuit.

Darrell Anderson, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC), told a crowd of local Democratic activists Saturday that the group would bring the matter to court unless the State Board of Elections either puts off the approval or doesn’t approve the new early voting sites when it discusses the matter Thursday in Annapolis.

Not approving the sites could send the early voting site decision back to the Republican-controlled Montgomery County Board of Elections (BOE) that made the original move.

“It’s going to go beyond Oct. 15 for us at least, no matter what they decide,” Anderson told the crowd gathered at the Jane Lawton Community Recreation Center in Chevy Chase.

The facility was replaced as an early voting site with the Potomac Community Recreation Center. BOE President Jim Shalleck, a Republican appointed to the position by Gov. Larry Hogan, said the move away from Chevy Chase and Burtonsville to Potomac and Brookeville was made to give other places an opportunity to have early voting centers.

But Democrats quickly alleged the relocation of the centers from more densely populated areas—and in Burtonsville’s case, an area with more black residents—to less densely populated areas was a naked attempt at voter suppression.

On Oct. 1, Democratic County Council members grilled Shalleck for the decision in a council hearing. Shalleck admitted that the new early voting sites would put fewer registered voters within 5 miles of an early voting site, a standard used for determining early voting locations in the state.

The MCDCC held rallies Saturday in Chevy Chase and in Burtonsville at the Marilyn Praisner Community Recreation Center that had also been replaced.

In Chevy Chase, the focus was on the location’s relative accessibility to seniors who live in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area.

Madeleine Sigel, a Bethesda resident and former member of the BOE, said “this never could’ve happened” when she was on the board because “even the two Republicans on the board were very nice and we were able to compromise, which is something nobody knows anymore.”

The political party of the governor controls all local election boards in Maryland, which is why heavily Democratic Montgomery County now has a five-member BOE controlled by three Republicans.

Anderson, wearing a shirt that read “Bad Politicians Are Elected by People Who Don’t Vote,” said the early voting site decision is “Gov. Hogan’s attempt to put in a larger amount of voter suppression throughout the state. It’s no surprise he chose Montgomery County for the first test. If he can do it here, he can do it anywhere.”

Shalleck has denied coordinating the effort with state leaders of the Republican party, though he did tell County Council members that he and at least one other Republican member of the BOE did consult with county Republican leaders before making the decision.

The two Democrats on the BOE voted against replacing the two sites.

District 18 state Sen. Rich Madaleno, who has proposed emergency state legislation to add the sites back, said at the Chevy Chase rally the BOE decision was “just wrong” and “not American.”

On Tuesday, council member Tom Hucker, who represents Burtonsville, will hold a press conference to announce he will deliver a petition with more than 2,200 supporters to the State Board of Elections before its session Thursday.

“I actually represent this area and I represent Potomac, where they moved this site. Am I torn by that? No,” County Council member Roger Berliner said Saturday. “There’s no question that this site serves more people, more voters and people who come to Bethesda to work than the site in Potomac. If you are choosing sites, every site should be designed to again encourage voting and make it easier for people to vote. This site does that. That site doesn’t.”

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