The Bowie Gymnasium is one of the most popular sites in the state for early voting, but its days as a polling place are numbered as city officials say the arrangement is detrimental to operations at the busy three-court facility.
Early voting will take place at the gym in 2020, despite telling elections officials last summer that the city didn’t want to continue using that location. In its motion approving the use for 2020, the council directed staff to immediately begin working with the Prince George’s County Board of Elections to find remedies for the 2022 cycle.
In the general election in 2016, more than 29,000 people voted early at the Bowie Gym. Elections administrator Alisha Alexander came before the Bowie City Council Tuesday night to request use of the Bowie Gym as a polling location for the 2020 primary and general elections, and said they expect turn out to be even higher. Voters have become accustomed to voting at the site, Alexander said, which is easily accessible from Route 50, Route 301 and Route 197.
While the site is one of the busiest in Maryland for early voting, the disturbance to operations at the gym was bad enough in 2018 that at the direction of the previous council last summer, City Manager Al Lott told the Board of Elections that the city did not want to host early voting at the gym again in 2020. Options including the Kenhill Center, Bowie Community Center and South Bowie Community Center were offered instead.
“The city gym doesn’t work. The city gym doesn’t work for the community. The city gym doesn’t work for the city, it doesn’t work for the staff,” District 1 Councilman DuFour Woolfley said.
Lott said early voting put a facility that gets a lot of public use out of action for three weeks. Parking was a big part of the problem; the city had to block off the adjacent Senior Center parking lot to keep spaces open there, and Lott said the barrier was moved regardless. He got more than 50 complaints from citizens in 2018.
“This upsets the good order and discipline of the city of Bowie in that area, and you should know that,” Lott said. “People will complain mightily.”
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She also told the council that people have become accustomed to voting at Bowie. During early voting people can vote at any site in their county, so people can stop by polling locations as part of their commute to work.
The gym was also the most popular early voting site statewide during the 2018 gubernatorial primary in Maryland. In eight days, 7,133 people voted at the gym. It was the second most popular early voting site during the general election, drawing 17,997 voters over eight days.
“I know the eight days of voting for the primary election and eight days for the general election may be an inconvenience to some, but I think it’s a small price to pay when you’re talking about fostering democracy,” Alexander said.