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Life in the Pines, 5-2011 - An open letter to the Worcester County
Board of Elections staff director Patti Jackson

Commentary by Tom Stauss

I have read the minutes of recent Election Board meetings where the issue of moving the Southside firehouse voting place was raised, and listened carefully to the comments made by you and your board and Commissioner Boggs at the April 19 county commissioners' meeting. While Ms. Boggs rudely interrupted you numerous times during your presentation, and made totally unsubstantiated and even insulting comments about the unwillingness or inability of Ocean Pines voters to drive an additional 1.7 miles to exercise the right to vote, I found the comments by you and your board members to be lucid, unemotional and rational.

I believe you and the board have made legitimate points about deficiencies in the Southside firehouse as a District 5 voting precinct. I concur with your conclusion that the firehouse is unsuitable because of the restriction on setting up the day before an election. Being able to test equipment and run the election without having to compress all the activity into a single day -- starting at a time of day that is much too early for any civilized activity -- are important considerations.

In addition, the lack of adequate parking at the fire station means that many voters have to park along Ocean Parkway on Election Day. Even if there is someone directing traffic -- Ms. Boggs' simplistic solution -- this situation is inherently unsafe and inconvenient, especially to our substantial senior population. It's a shame that our elected representative seems so oblivious to the best interests of elderly District 5 voters, while pretending to be so concerned.

One of your board members expressed the opinion to me today that Ms. Boggs' real concern is the possibility that she might lose some of her voters should they have to leave Ocean Pines to cast ballots; as theories go, this seems plausible enough as to Ms. Boggs’ possible motivation, though I do not share her cynical assessment of voters in Ocean Pines, most of whom I believe would go to whatever lengths necessary to exercise the franchise.

The fire department of course is willing to continue to cooperate with the Elections Board, but there is no solution to sirens sounding during emergencies or firefighters needing to access their gear stored in the room where voting occurs. Of course it would be possible to continue with the status quo, including having the chief election judge mopping up water from fire hoses. Perhaps Ms. Boggs herself could perform this important duty on Election Day, as it would certainly give her an opportunity to oversee vote tallies hot off the voting machines.

But clearly the status quo is far from ideal, so I applaud your efforts to investigate alternatives, including both the Ocean Pines Country Club and the Ocean Pines Community Church.

Even if the elevator is functional at the Country Club, I believe you would find its constant use on Election Day an inconvenience that could slow down voting and produce lines that would make this a less than ideal voting place. Steps from the first floor to the second floor were built during the 1970s and can be difficult to navigate for people who aren't as mobile as they once were. Ushering elderly voters into and out of the elevator would add to the burden of election officials on Election Day.

But the Community Church seems to be an excellent choice as a voting place -- a traffic light at the Beauchamp Road/Route 589 intersection, ample close-in parking and easy ground-floor access, just a short distance from Ocean Pines, especially for those who live north of Route 90.

As an alternative to relocating the District 5 firehouse precinct to the Community Church of Ocean Pines, however, I would suggest that the board consider making the Community Church the precinct for Ocean Pines voters who reside in District 6. Most Ocean Pines residents who vote in District 6 live in Ocean Pines' northernmost neighborhoods. The Community Church's Route 589 location would be easily accessible for these voters from within Ocean Pines via Ocean Parkway or from St. Martin's Lane and Beauchamp Road.

This would leave the Ocean Pines library and the Ocean Pines Community Center as the two District 5 voting precincts. District 5 voters who live south of Route 90 could be assigned to the library, while voters north of Route 90 could be assigned to the Community Center. This alternative would make voting even easier than it is now for most Ocean Pines residents, especially for District 5 voters who live on the Northside but have to travel to the Southside to vote. For Southside voters, it would mean a shift from the firehouse to the library, hardly a major change.

While technically the Community Center lies outside of District 5, this is inconsequential; the District 5 boundary line is Ocean Parkway, and the Community Center is located right on Ocean Parkway. For decades, residents in Ocean Pines voted at the old Community Hall, so for most District 5 Northside voters, this would be a return to the status quo ante.

I believe this solution addresses most if not all of the major concerns about this issue raised by the Elections Board, the OPVFD and even Ms. Boggs.

Uploaded: 5/17/2011