An so-called emergency bill that would mandate a 12th early voting center in Montgomery County would also set the location of the site in White Oak — a significant amendment to a bill that aims to overrule an earlier decision by the local Board of Elections.
Emergency legislation is designed to go into effect immediately after its passage. This particular bill was would be implemented in time to set up a 12th early voting site for the Maryland primaries.
The original legislation, introduced by state Del. Eric Luedtke and Sen. Will Smith, made the 12th site mandatory without specifying a location. But at a Monday night hearing on the bill, Smith announced an amendment that would establish the site at the White Oak Community Recreation Center.
Without a location, the bill threatened another showdown between the Republican-appointed majority on the Montgomery County Board of Elections — chaired by president Jim Shalleck — and its Democratic members.
The board had previously disagreed on whether to establish a 12th early voting center at all. In September, members voted 3-2 along party lines not to take advantage of a new law that allowed the local Board of Elections to establish an optional 12th site.
The county is required by the state to provide 11 early voting sites, which are open for eight days before the primary and general elections.
The decision launched a passionate debate over early voting access. Supporters of the 12th site appealed the local board’s decision to the Maryland Board of Elections, which upheld the vote in late October.
Luedtke introduced his emergency bill less than a week later. He — along with dozens of residents, community advocates and government officials — have argued since September that an early voting site is specifically needed in White Oak.
Residents there are disproportionately affected by long waits and limited public transportation to nearby early voting centers in Silver Spring and Burtonsville, District 5 Council Member Tom Hucker has said.
Other advocates for the site have argued that it would alleviate long lines on Election Day and providl voting access to low-income residents in White Oak. Many have been critical of the board’s decision not to establish a 12th center, arguing that it denies opportunities to a low-income, racially diverse area of the county.
In September, Hucker referred to the vote as “the very definition of voter suppression.” Daniel Koroma, a long-time White Oak resident, said it was denying people of color access to the voting booth.
Shalleck criticized both characterizations on Monday in unusually fiery testimony before the Montgomery County delegation.
“Let me just say how much I resent any allegations of voter suppression against the majority of our board,” he said. “You all — you — gave us legislation that a 12th early voting site would be optional. We took the option of no early voting site. So, why is there an emergency? Because you didn’t like the option we chose.”
Shalleck has repeatedly said that the vote was driven by concerns over the cost of establishing a 12th early voting site for the primary and general elections.
Establishing a new facility would cost roughly $234,000. The board has also been required to spend an additional $349,000 on closed-data networks for same-day voter registration.
Several upcounty residents joined Shalleck in criticizing the bill, which would go into effect immediately after passage — in time for the Maryland primaries on April 28, Smith noted.
Sharon Bauer, a Dickerson resident, said the emphasis on another early voting site near Silver Spring ignored the needs of underserved residents in the northern and western parts of the county.
“The county already has four early voting sites in Silver Spring and only one in Germantown,” she said. “There’s no early voting site in Clarksburg, the fastest-growing area of the county. Your arguments that people in White Oak have to rely on public transportation ignore the same needs in the up-county areas.”
Shalleck has also argued that the local board, if forced to select a 12th early voting center, should choose a facility that would better serve up-county residents.