Maryland Democratic Party officials condemned a decision to only have one early voting center in St. Mary’s County as “voter suppression” in a Friday statement, adding to mounting criticism of local election officials.
Advocates have warned that St. Mary’s County’s sole early voting center will be difficult to access for residents of the diverse and densely populated southern area of the county. In a Friday statement, Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis slammed local election officials for only opening one early voting center.
“This is voter suppression, plain and simple,” Lewis and Del. Brian Crosby (D-St. Mary’s) said in a joint statement.
Crosby and Lewis demanded that local election officials consider other early voting center locations as proposed by the county’s NAACP branch, and asked that officials “detail the steps they will take to ensure every voter has safe access to the ballot box” if they can’t fulfill that request.
Crosby, who represents that southern region of the county, told Maryland Matters that his district contains 35% of the county’s voters, and has the most low-income residents and people of color in the county. Many of those residents rely on public transportation, and Crosby warned that bus routes from the southern area of the county to the Hollywood firehouse are long and confusing.
“Not only does this create an extraordinary obstacle to vote, it creates a public health risk. Forcing every voter in the county to the same polling location will put the safety of voters and poll workers at risk,” a Democratic Party release reads. “With the threat of COVID-19, we should be having more polling locations, not less.”
Wendy Adkins, the director of the St. Mary’s County Board of Elections, previously told the Maryland State Board of Elections that her staff “aggressively” looked for locations in the southern area of the county after education officials refused use of a high school as an early voting center, but came up short. She said she’s considered the alternative locations proposed by the local NAACP, but none would work.
“The rug was pulled out from under us on this one,” Michael R. Cogan, the Republican chairman of the State Board of Elections, said last week.
The Hollywood firehouse was also the county’s sole early voting center during the 2016 General Election. Roughly 2,900 residents voted early during that election. Early voting is set to begin on Oct. 26. The county will have seven in-person voting centers, including some in the southern area of the county, for the Nov. 3 election.