State Delegate Wades into Early Voting Debate, Plans Emergency Bill

State Delegate Wades into Early Voting Debate, Plans Emergency Bill

Luedtke wants to mandate Board of Elections to create a 12th site

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Del. Eric Luedtke

File photo

As elected Democrats battle appointed Republicans over an early voting site in Montgomery County, state Del. Eric Luedtke said Monday that he will file an emergency bill requiring a 12th location.

The legislator, whose district includes significant sections of east county, announced his plan after the local Board of Elections again declined to reconsider a vote against adding a 12th early voting site in White Oak.

The proposed location at the White Oak Community Recreation Center would largely benefit District 5 in eastern Montgomery County — a majority black area that’s home to many immigrants and people of color, according to community activist Daniel Koroma.

Montgomery County is required to provide 11 early voting centers, but a recent change in state law allows the local Board of Elections to approve an optional 12th site.

Early voting sites are open for a period before the primary and the general elections. Any registered voter in the county may cast a ballot at any early voting site.

Voters who can’t vote on Election Day also may request an absentee ballot.

Proponents of the new facility, including Democratic County Council members, have argued that the addition was vital for White Oak voters, who frequently face long lines and delays at the closest early voting sites in Burtonsville and Silver Spring.

The five-member Montgomery County Board of Elections, which has a Republican majority, voted against adding a 12th site at its September meeting. Republicans board members argued that the additional site would be an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer funds.

At a press conference on Friday, Council Members Tom Hucker and Will Jawando — along with County Executive Marc Elrich — called on the board to reverse the decision. The message came with a clear demand: Call an emergency meeting on Monday to change the vote, Hucker said, or elected officials would petition the state.

Over the weekend, the Board of Elections again voted 3-2 down party lines not to revisit the issue, President Jim Shalleck said.

“It’s just surprising and disappointing we’re at this stage,” Hucker said Monday. “It’s the job of the board to ensure voting access, and I think the majority is now guilty of malpractice.”

Hucker plans to petition the state Board of Elections to send the decision back for reconsideration, added Dave Kunes, his chief of staff.

Luedtke’s bill, if passed, would mandate a 12th early voting site in Montgomery County. The legislation wouldn’t specify the location for the new facility, but it would compel the Board of Elections to add a polling place. White Oak would be the most logical choice, Luedtke said.

“I go to the polling places every election and I’ve seen the massive increase in turnout at early voting sites,” he added. “I’ve seen the long lines in the eastern part of the county. It’s clear that White Oak is the area of most need.”

As emergency legislation, the measure would go into effect immediately after passage, Luedtke said — in time for the 2020 primaries.

Shalleck maintains that a 12th early voting site would be an unnecessary expenditure for the county, which already provides the required number of facilities.

“We have 11 sites that are open to anyone in the county for eight days before the election,” he said. “I think the majority of the board continues to feel that an additional site would not be an appropriate use of taxpayer funds.”

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