Rep. Chris Van Hollen Calls on State Officials to Reverse Replacement of Early Voting Sites in Montgomery County

Rep. Chris Van Hollen Calls on State Officials to Reverse Replacement of Early Voting Sites in Montgomery County

Move comes as County Council member calls county Board of Elections before Government Operations Committee

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Rep. Chris Van Hollen (file photo)

Aaron Kraut

Rep. Chris Van Hollen on Friday urged the Maryland State Board of Elections to reject a decision to replace early voting locations in Burtonsville and Chevy Chase with sites in less-densely populated Brookeville and Potomac.

Van Hollen, who’s running for the Democratic nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat in next April’s primary, wrote a letter to members of the State Board of Elections asking them not to approve the decision by the Montgomery County Board of Elections on Monday to change two of the county’s nine early voting sites.

The decision, made with a 3-2 vote along party lines on the Republican-led county Board of Elections, almost immediately brought criticism from elected officials and others in heavily Democratic Montgomery County.

Many claimed the move to replace the Burtonsville site at the Marilyn Praisner Community Center and the Chevy Chase site at the Jane Lawton Community Recreation Center was made to make it harder for Democrats along the Route 29 corridor and Bethesda and Chevy Chase to access early voting.

Jim Shalleck, who Republican Gov. Larry Hogan appointed as president of the county Board of Elections earlier this year, denied those claims and said the decision was made to give areas that haven’t had early voting a chance.

In his letter, Van Hollen said the change would “have a major negative impact on the success of early voting in Montgomery County." He added: “The Lawton Community Center is the only western down-county early voting site in the County and is within walking distance of the Bethesda Metro station. This makes it a convenient and highly accessible location by transit for many of our residents and the approximately 40,000 people who work in downtown Bethesda.

“The Praisner Community Center was the second highest performing site in the County [in 2014] and early voting has occurred at this location for every election since 2010,” Van Hollen continued. “The Center had the highest concentration of minority voters in 2014 and is highly accessible to the diverse growing populations and neighborhoods along Route 29. Eliminating the location puts these voters more than ten miles away from an early voting center.”

Also on Friday, County Council member Nancy Navarro announced members of the county’s Board of Elections will appear before her Government Operations Committee on Thursday to discuss the controversy.

The meeting is set for 9:30 a.m. at the Council Office Building in Rockville.

“Moving early voting locations away from where people live is only going to discourage participation,” Navarro said in a statement. “Voting is one of the most fundamental civic duties in our democracy. Part of my job is to make sure that our residents have access to polling places in all parts of Montgomery County.”

The State Board of Elections must approve early voting locations in all counties. But it’s unclear if the board, which is also majority Republican, will bow to pressure from Montgomery County Democrats.

“We should do everything we can to make it easier for every citizen to vote,” Van Hollen wrote. “Unfortunately, the current early voting proposal makes it harder. It will create confusion, undercut early voting and same-day voter registration, and make it harder for low-income and elderly people and people of color to participate in our political process.”

Early voting for the April 26 primary election is set to run from April 14-21, with a close battle expected between Van Hollen and Rep. Donna Edwards for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate seat.

If approved by the state board, the early voting locations would remain the same for the November 2016 presidential general election.

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