Coun­cil agrees to ex­tend vot­ing hours in La Plata

Maryland Independent - - News - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @Tif­fIndyNews

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

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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.

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