Council agrees to extend voting hours in La Plata
As the Town of La Plata’s 2017 election approaches, residents will be able to cast their vote earlier on Election Day. At Tuesday’s La Plata Town Council work session the council decided to move forward with the rec- ommendation from the Board of Supervisors of Elections to extend voting hours.
“There is a memorandum signed by the members of the Board of Supervisors of Elections recommending that the voting hours are extended from the current 12 p.m. start time to a 7 a.m. start time,” said town clerk Danielle Mandley. “There were several email correspondents in support of this recom- mendation. There is cur- rently a budgeted $3,000 and it would require an additional $1,000.”
At the Sept. 27 meeting, representatives from the La Plata Business Associ- ation and town residents were present to support the request for extending voting hours. During the meeting the representa- tives were encouraged to have qualified voters send letters of request about the extension of voting hours to the board.
“Historically the town elections have been of little to no interest to the residents until now, and I think it’s important to make it more accessible to everybody from all walks
of life,” said Keith Grasso, president of the La Plata Business Association. “A lot of people from La Plata commute out of our area and that makes it hard for them to get the polls and be actively involved. If the town wants to get people engaged and elect our leaders, it should be accessible to everyone. I think the LPBA took an active role in this issue and pushed it further past the status quo.”
According to the board, the town’s FY 2016-2017 budget includes $3,000 for election expenses. The amount is based on the amounts spent in previous elections and is enough to cover the expenses of the 2017 election without extended voting hours. Any extension of the voting hours would require the town council to appropriate additional funds.
The board was tasked with reviewing the request and making a recommendation to the town council. In making a recommendation to extend the voting hours the board considered items, such as the budget, availability of staff and if other options may offer additional opportunities for voting.
Mayor Roy G. Hale said election day is a very long day, and in addition to using paper ballots, it might make it an even longer day for the board and volunteers in the town.
Councilmen Lynn Gil- roy and Joseph Norris questioned whether the decision to extend the voting hours would be worthwhile.
“If you have to be out of La Plata at 5:30 a.m., and you’re going to work in Washington, D.C., it may or may not have an effect on being able to vote earli- er,” Gilroy said.
According to the town staff, the board will have to decide on a staff schedule and the amount of additional election judges needed to cover the addi- tional five hours that the polls would be open if the extension of voting hours are approved. Each of the election judges would be required to remain at the polling place from 6:30 a.m. until the closing of the polls and the canvass- ers would be required to work until all ballots are counted. The additional staff would be needed to allow for breaks for lunch, dinner and short breaks throughout the day.
The board considered promoting other, inexpen- sive voting options that are already in place — absentee voting and ear- ly voting — rather than extend hours on election day. Absentee ballots are available to any qualified voter who may be unavoidably absent from Charles County for any reason — ill, disabled or an emergency. Both options would not require additional staffing, can be conducted on select days by the board and would have minimal impact on the budget.
However, the board determined that those options would be less than desirable to potential voters and still recommended extending voting hours be approved and that $1,000 in additional funding be appropriated.
The consensus of the council was to accept the recommendation from the board for residents to vote earlier on Election Day, which will be on May 2, 2017.