SNOW HILL — After discussing a possible move with the Worcester County Commissioners, the Board of Elections is still leaning toward finding a new location for primary polling in Ocean Pines.
Though Board of Elections Supervisor Patti Jackson stated that no final decision has been made, she did confirm that her organization is putting serious thought into moving from the Ocean Pines fire station to another nearby site, possibly the Community Church.
“This is not an argument that we can settle,” said Commission President Bud Church.
Despite the Board of Elections being a county organization, the commissioners do not have direct authority over where the board decides to host polling locations.
Instead, the Board of Elections chooses sites with the aid of a set of state-endorsed regulations, standards that Jackson asserted the fire station does not meet. Specifically, the fact that the fire department cannot allow the Board of Elections to set up the night before elections due to issues with equipment storage was highlighted as grounds to disqualify it as an ideal polling location.
Jackson mentioned several other minor problems, including traffic and parking lot concerns, the disruption from fire calls and the safety hazard of water leaking from hoses. Commissioner Judy Boggs, however, disagreed with her reasoning.
“All of those things were addressed,” said Boggs. “The fire department has been a welcoming, safe, familiar place.”
Boggs, who represents the Ocean Pines district, brought the potential move to the commissioner’s attention more than a month ago. She expressed concern over a possible decline in voter turn-out if polling was moved from the fire station to the church, since that would technically take it out of the established district.
Jackson pointed out that, even if the church isn’t in the voting district that it would represent, it is only 1.7 miles away from the fire station.
However, Boggs still argued that a move would almost certainly decrease voting, something she didn’t want to see happen to Ocean Pines, which was one of the most active districts during the last election with roughly 75 percent voter turn-out. She expressed a fear that, even if the polls were only moved two miles, it would still discourage people from coming out, especially since the fire station has hosted polling for the past 12 years.
Jackson seemed less worried that a move would affect voter-turnout, especially a relocation of less than two miles. She said her office had only received one public comment on the possible migration as of Tuesday.
“The law is the law,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas when asked to weigh in on the debate.
According to the code, a primary polling place is supposed to allow the board to set up overnight; if not, then the Board of Elections is authorized to find a new location, even if it’s outside the voting district.
County Attorney Sonny Bloxom agreed that under election standards, the fire station wasn’t an ideal polling site. However, he pointed out the Board of Elections was not trapped by the regulations, since it could change or disregard code requirements.
Gulyas advised the Board of Elections to spend more time talking to residents of Ocean Pines before making a final decision.
“You haven’t taken them into consideration,” said Gulyas. “You have to give as well as take.”