The White Oak Community Recreation Center is among 19 potential locations being considered for early voting centers in the 2022 elections, Montgomery County Board of Elections members said at a Monday afternoon meeting.
The county will be able to establish up to 14 early voting centers in the 2022 election, and fair elections advocates have long called for an early voting center in White Oak, a majority-minority community in eastern Montgomery County where residents faced long Election Day voting lines in 2016.
Establishing an early voting center in the neighborhood has sparked partisan disputes between the Republican-controlled county Board of Elections, which resisted such a move in 2019, and Democratic elected officials.
The Montgomery County Board of Elections will hold a public hearing on White Oak and other proposed early voting centers on Saturday, Sept. 18 at 10 a.m., board members decided Monday.
At Monday’s meeting, Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Election Law Subcommittee, described the White Oak Community Recreation Center as an “ideal” early voting center location for residents in the eastern part of the county due to its accessibility by public transportation and central location.
“White Oak is a diverse, multicultural community that deserves direct access to an early voting site,” Wilkins said.
The White Oak Community Recreation Center was used as an early voting center during the unconventional 2020 elections, which saw a temporary expansion of early voting centers statewide due to the COVID-19 pandemic and fears around potentially crowded Election Day voting. The 2020 elections saw a surge in absentee ballot use and early voting due to the pandemic.
In addition to the White Oak Community Recreation Center, the following locations are also being considered as early voting centers:
- Activity Center at Bohrer Park
- Bauer Drive Community Recreation Center
- Coffield Community Recreation Center
- Dacek Community Recreation Center
- Damascus Community Recreation Center
- East County Community Recreation Center
- Executive Office Building
- Germantown Community Recreation Center
- Lawton Community Recreation Center
- Long Branch Community Recreation Center
- Longwood Community Recreation Center
- Mid-County Community Recreation Center
- Potomac Community Recreation Center
- Praisner Community Recreation Center
- Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department
- Silver Spring Civic Building
- Upper County Community Recreation Center
- Wheaton Community Recreation Center.
Some of those centers have potential caveats, according to meeting materials: The Coffield Community Recreation Center and the Long Branch Community Recreation Center will be serving as homeless shelters for women and men respectively until the end of this year, and are scheduled for renovations in 2022. The Praisner Community Recreation Center’s gym is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Wilkins noted that Montgomery County will have two additional early voting centers in next year’s elections due to recently passed legislation: House Bill 745, sponsored by House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), will overhaul the state’s formula for determining the number of early voting centers based on county populations when it goes into effect in October.
Under the state’s current early voting center formula, counties with less than 125,000 registered voters are required to have just one early voting center. The number of centers required in each county increases with population, up to 11 early voting centers for counties with more than 450,000 registered voters.
When Luedtke’s bill goes into effect, that figure will change so that counties with populations over 50,000 will generally add additional voting centers, up to 13 early voting centers for counties with more than 600,000 registered voters. And counties and the city of Baltimore will still be able to tack on one additional voting center, if needed.
Luedtke’s bill also requires local boards of elections to consider additional factors, such as accessibility to historically disenfranchised communities, when selecting early voting center sites. He said access to early voting in White Oak was part of his reason for introducing the bill.
“The reality is that for a lot of folks in that community, it’s very hard to access other early voting sites because there’s so much transit dependency,” Luedtke said Monday. “It makes logical sense to me that that would be a site.”
Luedtke also cited concerns over early voting access in St. Mary’s County as a reason for the legislation. Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis and Del. Brian Crosby (D-St.Mary’s) said last year that local election officials’ decision to have just one early voting center in the 2020 General Election amounted to “voter suppression.”
Luedtke said he thinks early voting will continue to be a popular option for voters going forward.
“Early voting just gets more and more popular every cycle,” Luedtke said. “You have more and more demand for early voting, and we need to meet that demand.”
In addition to expanding the number of early voting centers that will be in place in counties across the state, lawmakers also expanded early voting center hours for both primary and general elections during the 2021 legislative session: Senate Bill 596, sponsored by Sen. Mary L. Washington (D-Baltimore City) and cross-filed as HB 206 by Del. Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s), will require early voting centers to be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on each early voting day, for each election.