White Marsh set to remain Golden Beach polling place

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Officers of the Golden Beach Civic Association met with the St. Mary’s County Board of Elections recently to talk about moving the neighborhood’s polling place before the 2014 back to where it used to be.

But as of now, the voting will remain at White Marsh Elementary School, the Golden Beach officers were told.

The civic association collected the signatures of 1,017 registered voters in the precinct to move the polling place back to the Golden Beach substation of the Mechanicsville Volunteer Fire Department.

Some in the neighborhood thought there was a political motivation to move the polling place seven miles farther away from the old location at the firehouse, to make voting more difficult for residents of the neighborhood, where Republicans outnumber Democrats. Of the 2,459 active registered voters in the precinct, 1,175 are Republicans (48 percent to the Democrats’ 33 percent), board of elections records show.

“I think it’s just a misunderstanding. We realized it wasn’t true at all,” said Matt Morgan, a Republican who ran for delegate in 2010 for northern St. Mary’s. He was asked by the association to help in the drive to move the polling place back into the neighborhood.

Morgan said the president of the Mechanicsville Volunteer Fire Department is willing to host the precinct back to the Golden Beach substation. “From the community standpoint, I think they’d like to have it moved back,” Morgan said.

Dale Antosh, president of the Golden Beach Civic Association, said there was confusion among the neighborhood’s voters in the 2012 election cycle. “They didn’t have a clue it was moved,” he said.

The 1,017 signatures collected to move it back, he said, “I think ... pretty well says a lot.”

The board of elections checked the signatures and found that there were 997 valid ones, 40 percent of the precinct.

The board of elections formed a subcommittee of two Republicans to study the polling place issue. That subcommittee studied voter turnout in the precinct during recent elections. Including early voting — offered in Leonardtown for several days before Election Day — turnout among Golden Beach eligible voters reached 70.9 percent during the 2012 election when voting was held at White Marsh Elementary School.

Before the polling place was moved to White Marsh, “We were unable to gain access to the firehouse ... before a scheduled election to set up a polling place,” said Noel Temple “Tim” Wood, a member of the board of elections. “So we had to move and we were unable to resolve the issue that caused us to move at that time,” he said.

The polling place “should be as convenient as possible to the community,” he said and it’s “certainly a psychological issue” to have to drive farther away past an old polling spot.

There is inadequate parking at White Marsh elementary, Wood said, and there is a long distance from the parking to the voting area. The board of elections is willing to work with the Golden Beach community, he said, but there needs to be written agreement with the Mechanicsville fire department to use the substation.

There may be redistricting issues coming for election boundaries as well, he said.

“When planning an election, it is very difficult to find logistical locations that suit everybody,” said Wendy Adkins, supervisor of the board of elections.

The board of elections tries to limit precincts to 2,500 registered voters. Lettie Marshall Dent Elementary School is already a polling place for another precinct, which is almost at 2,500 voters. The board of elections looked into adding another voting precinct there, but decided there isn’t enough parking.

The 5-3 precinct of Golden Beach is very close to reaching the 2,500 mark as well. “It’s the nature of the beast,” Adkins said.

Board of elections staff also said finding election judges to work in the north end of St. Mary’s is a challenge. “We can cover that,” Antosh said. Election workers are paid $150 for the long Election Day.

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