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Editorial: Polling place change disenfranchises former Charles Carroll voters

Getting voters to the ballot box is difficult enough when their polling location is five minutes away. But imagine what turnout might look like if casting your ballot involved a 40-minute or more round trip.

That's what residents who used to vote at Charles Carroll Elementary School are facing in November's general election unless the Carroll County Board of Elections finds an alternative polling place.

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One of the many side effects of the Carroll County Board of Education's decision to shutter three buildings at the end of the current school year is a change in polling places for voters who previously cast ballots at Charles Carroll Elementary, New Windsor Middle or North Carroll High schools, at least for this coming year's election.

For those who vote in New Windsor and Hampstead, the change in polling places is minimal. Those in Election District 11, Precinct 1, who voted at the middle school will travel a quarter-mile up Green Valley Road (Md. 75) to the Community Room at the Old New Windsor School (also the Carroll County Public Library Headquarters). Residents in Election District 8, Precinct 2, who cast ballots at the high school will now do so at the gymnasium of Shiloh Middle, less than three-quarters of a mile away from North Carroll.

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But those in Election District 3, Precinct 1, who voted at Charles Carroll will now have to travel almost 20 minutes to vote at Ebb Valley Elementary School in Manchester. The two sites are nearly 11 miles apart. For comparisons' sake, the Westminster Senior and Community Center — the early voting site for the entire county — is about 9.5 miles away, a straight shot down Md. 97.

We don't think the bipartisan Board of Elections acted with malice when picking Ebb Valley as an alternative, but we do wonder what they were thinking.

Advocates for keeping Charles Carroll open argued that it acted as a hub for those in the Silver Run/Union Mills area, and this clearly illustrates that point. We still think, pending the appeals process to keep the three schools open, that renovating the aging school building into a community center is in the best interest of the county and the residents of the area, and it could once again serve as a polling place.

But in the short term, certainly a better solution can be drawn up that doesn't disenfranchise the precinct's 3,000-plus voters.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, who represents the area, had suggested the Pleasant Valley Community Fire Company. It's located about five miles, roughly a 10-minute drive, from Charles Carroll.

Another possibility is a nearby church like St. Mary's Evangelical Lutheran, located at Md. 97 and Mayberry Road, less than a mile, and a minute drive time, away from the elementary school.

Both may present some challenges — compliance will the Americans with Disabilities Act or power needs could complicate matters — but we'd at least like to know what factors led to this decision by the Board of Elections and whether they'd be willing to reconsider. We should know more after the board's meeting on Wednesday, June 15. Hopefully, a more amenable alternative can be decided then.

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