Montgomery Co. board of elections accused of voter suppression, ‘secret phone calls’

ROCKVILLE, Md.– Maryland state lawmakers say they want the Montgomery County Board of Elections to reverse its decision to move two early voting centers.

If not, they’ll act to get emergency legislation passed that would add new voting sites — effectively blunting the change by the majority-Republican elections board.

State Sen. Richard Madeleno, D-Montgomery County, says the elections board could avoid further controversy by abandoning its plans to close the Marilyn Praisner Community Recreation Center in Burtonsville and the Jane Lawton Community Recreation Center in Chevy Chase.

The fight began over a decision by the county elections board to close the two early voting sites in Chevy Chase and Burtonsville and instead open sites in Brookeville and Potomac.

James Shalleck, the Republican chairman of the elections board, told a Montgomery County Council committee on government operations that the decision was made to add “geographic diversity” to the county’s nine early voting sites.

Council member Tom Hucker, a Democrat, served as a delegate in Annapolis and pushed for early voting in the state. He questioned the process that led the elections board to close two early voting sites and move them to areas of the county where the population density is lower. Hucker cited the law that established early voting, saying it was intended to put early voting centers in densely populated areas.

Also, Hucker quizzed board chairman Jim Shalleck about where and how the idea to close the Chevy Chase and Burtonsville sites came from. Shalleck told him that he had consulted with Republican Party central committee members in a phone call. Hucker wanted to know if other elections board members were included on the call. David Naimon, a Democratic member of the board, told Hucker he was not included in that phone call.

Shalleck said three members of the board participated in a call with the chair of the county Republican Party. When Hucker asked if other board members Naimon and Mary Anne Keeffe, both Democrats, were invited to participate, Shalleck said they were not.

Shalleck, clearly frustrated by the allegations that the elections board was engaging in voter suppression, and that it was somehow connected to Gov. Larry Hogan, said something that drew gasps from some in the audience.

“Between getting chemotherapy and running the state, do you think Larry Hogan is concerned about having a voting site in Potomac? Absolutely not! We should pray for the governor, and not criticize him.”

Hucker denied that party politics were at the center of the fight over early voting sites.

“I’m not here as a member of the Democratic Party” said Hucker, “I’m not concerned that you’ve erected barriers to Democrats voting … What matters is you’ve erected barriers to voters voting.”

After the hearing, State Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery County, referred to Shalleck’s comments about a phone call in which Republican Party officials were consulted, suggesting state law had been violated.

“The open meetings law says that a majority of members of a public body cannot meet outside of a public context in order to make decisions.”

The Maryland State Board of Elections has been contacted by Democratic leaders and nonpartisan groups in the county, and is expected to address the issue in its Oct. 15 meeting.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

Editor’s Note:  The spelling of David Naimon’s name has been changed.

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