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Potential compromise offered in partisan spat over early voting centers

Republicans in Maryland's most populous county on Wednesday may walk back part of a controversial plan to relocate early voting sites, a proposal that had riled state Democrats.

The controversy in Montgomery County was widely seen as a potential harbinger of fights to come elsewhere now that Republicans – the party of Maryland's new governor – by law hold majorities on every county election board in the state.

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But days before the state was to review a plan to move two of the county's nine early polling places, the chairman of the Republican-led Montgomery County Board of Elections suggested tempering the proposal. Republican James Shalleck this week suggested that instead of moving both the disputed polling locations, they move just one.

"The bottom line is very simple: we're listening to the voices of the people," said Republican James Shalleck, president of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

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Republicans said they were trying to achieve "geographic diversity" by relocating polling sites in Burtonsville and Bethesda-Chevy Chase to the less populous areas of Brookeville and Potomac. Democrats accused the GOP of "voter suppression" by moving the polling sites from communities with high concentrations of minority voters to places more friendly to Republicans.

Despite three weeks of political pressure to change course, Shalleck said politics played no role in revising the plan, which he will present to the county board for a vote Wednesday. Shalleck plans to suggest leaving a polling place in Burtonsville and moving one to Potomac.

"I'm trying to reach a compromise," Shalleck said. "The Burtonsville community was very upset about the closure. They were very vocal. We certainly heard their voices and we want to be fair."

The Maryland State Board of Elections is scheduled to review the early voting locations for all counties during a meeting on Thursday.

ecox@baltsun.com
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