Councilmember Valerie Ervin Urges Council To Support Board of Elections’ Request
Ervin Believes District 4 Special Primary Should Be April 7
And Special General Election Should Be May 12
ROCKVILLE, Md., Feb. 10, 2009—Montgomery County Councilmember Valerie Ervin today advocated for the Council to follow a request from the Board of Elections concerning special elections to fill the vacant District 4 seat by holding the special primary on Tuesday, April 7, and the special general election on Tuesday, May 12. The County Board of Elections notified Councilmembers in a letter received yesterday that the dates currently proposed by the County Council would be problematic.
In its morning session today, after considerable discussion about the special elections, the Council decided to table the discussion until a special full Council session, which will be held at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 12. The Council invited public input over the next two days on the election to fill the seat left vacant following the death of Councilmember Don Praisner on Jan. 30. He was elected in special elections last spring following the death of his wife Marilyn, who was a member of the Council.
The letter from the Board of Elections stated: “There are a number of problems with setting the special primary election for April 14, 2009. Last year, when the Council District 4 special election was held while school was in session, the Montgomery County Board of Elections received complaints from parents that strangers were walking around the school. Additionally, some voters complained about excessive noise while voting in multi-purpose rooms.”
The Board of Elections also noted significant security issues associated with setting up the voting machines the night before the elections and keeping this equipment secure.
“The County has an obligation to conduct this upcoming special election in a fair and equitable way,” said Councilmember Ervin. “Councilmembers are not experts in conducting elections. We need to listen to the advice given by the Board of Elections on the appropriate date to conduct the primary and general election.”
School workers also noted problems with conducting last year’s special election during the school day. Limited parking, a lack of voter privacy and security issues were at the top of the list. Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 500, explained that, “their members struggled to perform their regular duties while also setting up and attending to the needs of precinct officials. In most elementary and middle schools, the cafeteria or all-purpose room is used for voting.” There were instances where cafeteria managers had to deliver lunches to classrooms and had to bring food through voting locations interfering with voter privacy. Also, there were issues with adequate parking at school sites and building service staff had to visit each classroom to collect the lunch trash.
“Instead of putting additional burdens on the Montgomery County Public Schools system and their employees as they educate our children, we should use common sense and conduct elections on days when children are not in the classroom,” said Councilmember Ervin. “Special elections have historically low voter turn out so we need to do all that we can to make the process as easy as possible for our residents.”
While Councilmember Ervin recognizes the fiscal constraints the County is facing, she believes that the right to vote should receive special protection. She also was concerned with a proposal to reduce the number of polling places by 50 percent or more.
“I cannot support any proposal that may disenfranchise voters,” said Councilmember Ervin. “Limiting or changing the number of polling places will create confusion for residents and may further suppress voter participation. Montgomery County is known as being a progressive County. Let’s not turn back the clock for the residents of District 4.”