The Republican-led Montgomery County Board of Elections (BOE) on Wednesday restored an early voting center in Burtonsville but not in Chevy Chase during a special meeting that included plenty of partisanship and a few unruly moments.
The three Republican voting members of the five-member BOE have faced blistering criticism in heavily Democratic Montgomery County in the three weeks since they decided to replace early voting sites in Burtonsville and Chevy Chase with sites in less densely populated Brookeville and Potomac for the 2016 elections.
Earlier this week, BOE President Jim Shalleck proposed what he said is a fair compromise: Restore the Burtonsville site (meaning no early voting center in Brookeville), but keep the Potomac site in place of Chevy Chase.
In defending that idea Wednesday, fellow Republican BOE member Alexander Vincent compared Democratic efforts to restore both sites as propaganda similar to what’s produced by the governments of North Korea and Iran.
“This has been partisan and political from day one. The very evening we took the vote, a systemic campaign to demonize the members of this board was begun,” Vincent said. “Vile and vicious things have been said about us, that we were vote suppressors, as if there is no reasonable disagreement about where to put these sites and there’s only one right answer.”
BOE member David Naimon, a Democrat, said while he disagreed about replacing the sites, he never accused the Republican board members of voter suppression—something many county elected officials did do in two press conferences inside the County Council hearing room and two rallies last weekend organized by the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC).
While Naimon pressed his case for why the Chevy Chase site at the Jane Lawton Community Recreation Center would attract more early voters than the Potomac Community Recreation Center, some in the audience at the BOE’s Gaithersburg headquarters blurted out their own arguments.
Dan McHugh, vice president of the Montgomery County Young Republicans, said during a public comment session that county Democrats “were acting like little children because they’re not getting 100 percent of what they usually get because they run this county lock, stock and barrel.”
“This is ridiculous in my opinion and absurd,” McHugh said. “I’m a Republican in Montgomery County. I’m sick of eating humble pie. For once they should eat humble pie.”
Each local election board in Maryland must be led by members of whatever political party the governor belongs to. Gov. Larry Hogan appointed Shalleck as BOE president earlier this year.
Shalleck, a Montgomery Village resident who last year took on three-term County Executive Ike Leggett, avoided any partisan confrontations and spoke calmly.
“I personally understand how contentious it is,” Shalleck said. “I just want to say there was never any intent to have voter suppression. But I understand the concerns of the community.”
When Naimon asked him why Chevy Chase was selected as a site to be replaced,
Shalleck said “old and established” communities such as Potomac deserve a chance to have an early voting center.
Naimon then asked why Long Branch, another established community in the eastern part of the county, wasn’t considered as a replacement site.
A motion from Democratic BOE member Mary Ann Keeffe to restore the Chevy Chase site lost on a 3-2 vote along party lines. Naimon’s motion to restore the Chevy Chase site by replacing the Damascus early voting site—by far the least popular early voting site in the 2014 election cycle—also lost on a 3-2 vote along party lines.
The three Republicans on the board then approved Shalleck’s suggestion to restore the Burtonsville site and keep the Potomac site. Naimon and Keeffe voted against it.
The matter is set to go before the State Board of Elections at 2 p.m. Thursday in Annapolis, though it’s unclear what will happen if that board rejects Shalleck’s proposed solution.
Approval by the state BOE requires a supermajority of four votes. The hearing will start with public comment.
Council member Tom Hucker, who has been among the most vocal of the critics of the county BOE during the last three weeks, said he’ll speak before the state BOE and deliver a petition calling for both the Burtonsville and Chevy Chase sites to be restored.