Residents Afraid to Vote at Their Polling Place
Some Eastport residents say they are worried about the safety of their polling location after two shootings have occurred near the Eastport Community Center.
Some Annapolis residents say that after two shootings near their polling place at the Eastport Community Center, they may decide to stay home on Election Day.
"I feel that it is unfairly putting our representation in a gerry-mandered position because a lot of those people feel very safe, but a lot of other people won't venture over there at all," Steven Conn said. "We don't want it to be moved. We understand that there are people there with limited mobility, but give us an alternative."
On Sunday night, two men were shot near the community center, and in June, Orlando Sherman McDaniel, 29, of Annapolis died as a result of gunshots wounds he suffered near the 1100 block of Madison Street, which is nearby. No arrests have been made in either case.
For one Eastport resident, who asked not to be identified, her concerns go beyond the recent violence. She said she's been harassed at the polling place while trying to vote in past years.
"I have gone there, and either on my way in or on my way out, I’ve been heckled about who I was going to vote for," she said. "I’ve had them where they blocked my car as I was trying to leave. It’s a very unsafe feeling, very unsafe."
Greg Brennan, another area resident, disagreed with the characterization that the polling place is unsafe.
"The area around the Eastport Community Center has no history of daytime violence, especially assault on passersby," Brennan said. "The only risk is that some people will have to overcome their neuroses about poor people."
Scott Shaffer, the District 30 representative for the Anne Arundel County GOP, has served as an election judge at the community center.
"At no time did I feel unsafe, or witness voters being harassed by residents of the public housing community." Shaffer said. "Given the recent shooting and general increase in crime among Annapolis Housing Authority neighborhoods, I know many residents are hoping the city police department will step up their patrols of the area on Election Day."
Alderman Mathew Silverman (D-5th Ward) said that sounded like a fair compromise for this election cycle. He even said he would recommend stationing a patrol car outside the community center during voting hours.
Whether the threat is real or perceived didn't matter to Silverman.
"Nobody can say you're not in fear," Silverman said. "If having an officer or a patrol car there means people go and vote that wouldn’t normally go there and vote, I don’t think that’s too much to ask."
That may be the only option for nervous voters on Nov. 6 because Anne Arundel County Board of Elections Director Joe Torre said it is simply too late to move the current polling location or secure a new one. He said state law mandates that all polling locations must be finalized before the primary elections unless there is extenuating circumstances like a building failure.
"We can look at it after this election," Torre said. "If people say, 'We don’t like where we are, but there is a building down the corner that we think we will work,' we will go look at it because they know their neighborhood better than we do."
Maryland's State Board of Elections has a survey that evaluates potential polling places for things such as parking, handicap access and proximity to public transportation, Torre said. The survey—which can take several weeks—must be completed before a new polling location can be approved.
If people are concerned about voting at the Eastport Community Center on Nov. 6, Torre said there are alternatives.
All Annapolis residents can vote in person at the Boys and Girls Club of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County at 121 South Villa Ave., from Oct. 27 until Nov. 1. Early voting hours are from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., except on Oct. 28 when early voting hours are from noon to 6 p.m.
Voters can also use absentee ballots. These ballots can be picked up in person at the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections, or they can be mailed to a voter's home. The last date to request an absentee ballot be mailed is Oct. 30. Click here to find the forms and instructions for requesting an absentee ballot.
Torre said he would also talk with Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop about safety concerns at the Eastport Community Center voting location.
"I’m in touch with all of the public safety agencies in the county and in Annapolis," Torre said. "I’ll make sure to tell him to pay special attention to that location because of the activities that have gone on recently, and I'm sure he will do that."