Montgomery Elections Board Accused of Voter Suppression

Board Chair Calls Allegation ‘A Political Attack’

Councilmember Tom Hucker, left, and Jim Shalleck, chair of the State Board of Elections.

Political, community and labor leaders called on the Montgomery County Board of Elections on Friday to reverse its earlier decision to add the county’s 12th early voting site at the White Oak Recreation Center.

Councilmember Tom Hucker, who represents White Oak, called the board’s Sept. 16 decision a political decision motivated by GOP strategy.

“It’s a pattern of Republican-led voter suppression,” Hucker said.

Jim Shalleck, the Republican who leads the county’s election board, disputed the notion and said it was a simple matter of trying to save money. Adding a 12th early voting site would cost $117,000 for the April 28, 2020, primary and then another $117,000 for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election. Early voting takes place on eight days before each election.

“We felt it wasn’t an appropriate expenditure of public funds,” Shalleck said.

Hucker said finances aren’t the concern of the county board.

“He’s way outside his swim lane to be talking about the cost,” he said.

The County Council selected the White Oak location to relieve long lines at Silver Spring and at the Praisner Community Recreation Center in Burtonsville. Although the Montgomery County election board receives guidance from the State Board of Elections, it receives funding from the council.

To help relieve those lines, Shalleck said the board has added extra ballot scanners and extra personnel.

Supporters for the White Oak location face a tight deadline. On Sept. 30, the State Board of Elections is set to approve early voting sites.

Hucker led a press conference in White Oak that included Councilmember Will Jawando, County Executive Marc Elrich and state elected officials. Diana Conway, who leads the Montgomery County Woman’s Democratic Club, and Joanne Antoine, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, also spoke in favor of the White Oak site.

“This is an important election. We can’t afford to have people sidelined in this election,” Elrich said.

Speakers at the press conference, available on Facebook, noted the demographics of the White Oak neighborhood — many residents are low-income or senior citizens who lack automobiles and depend on public transportation.

A 13-minute drive to the nearest voting center, the Praisner center in Burtonsville, would take 41 minutes by bus, Hucker said.

But Shalleck said the east county already has two other early voting sites, in Silver Spring and Wheaton.

He objected to the assertion that the board’s decision was an act of voter suppression.

“It’s a political attack on the Republic party. Our decision had only to do with taxpayer funds in Montgomery County,” Shalleck said.

Plus, a letter from Elrich to the board seems to show some support for the board’s thriftiness. In one paragraph, Elrich says he supports adding the 12th site because of the high turnout expected in the 2020 general election with the White House on the line.

However, in the next paragraph he expresses concerns about the cost for the primary.

“As you know, Maryland’s primary is on the back end of the primary calendar. If the presidential nominations are already determined by the time of our primary, turnout might be very low for the whole primary as there are not other competitive races in our county,” Elrich wrote.

The District, 10 states and two U.S. territories have primaries after Maryland’s.

Here’s the letter Elrich wrote the elections board:

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