BERLIN — Ocean Pines voters may have to go outside of their district to reach a polling station at the next election, as the Worcester County Board of Elections is considering moving the District 5 polling location from its traditional Southside fire station to a new location.
“It’s unnecessary,” said County Commissioner Judy Boggs, who represents District 5 and has been trying for more than a month to convince the board a change is unneeded. “They seem determined to take it [voting] outside of the district. Voting there [in the fire station] has been going on for at least 20 years or so. It has worked very well.”
Boggs isn’t alone in her desire to keep the polls at the fire station. The rest of the County Commissioners also went on record in opposition in a letter to the board.
“The Worcester County Commissioners have always supported a policy which allows voters to be able to vote within their respective election districts … We strongly encourage your board to reconfirm the Ocean Pines Fire Department as the polling place for the Ocean Pines District,” the letter read.
Board of Elections Supervisor Patti Jackson defended the hesitancy to return to the fire station, reporting she received a call “out of the blue” from the Ocean Pines Fire Department’s (OPFD) former president, asking the board to find a new location. Though there is a new president running the OPFD, and he has said he would allow the board to continue using the fire station, Jackson still feels that there isn’t much enthusiasm on behalf of the OPFD for hosting the board.
Boggs admitted that having the election take over the station for a day was probably disruptive for the firefighters. However, she said the firefighters understood how important voting was and never had a problem performing their civic duty and hosting the polls.
“They’ve been so welcoming all these years,” said Boggs.
Another concern of the board was possible safety issues associated with a place as active as the fire station. Because the polls are set up in the station’s engine room, every time an emergency calls goes off, the firefighters have to enter the room and get their gear. Jackson felt that this was both disruptive and created some minor hazards, such as puddles on the floor from leaky fire hoses.
Additionally, she listed several other minor problems including the engine room’s poor acoustics, a lack of lighting in the station’s parking lot, and the small size of the lot itself, which can be easily crowded and “creates a safety hazard.”
Boggs feels the concerns were unjustified, saying, “It’s a safe, friendly, accessible place.”
The most likely alternative location to the fire station would be the Ocean Pines Community Church, though Jackson confirmed the board was also considering the nearby country club. Though close to the area, it is outside of the actual district.
Boggs expressed a worry that moving the polling place could have an adverse effect on voter turnout.
“Ocean Pines should be the shining star of voting,” she said, pointing out that her district produced a 76 percent voter turnout during the last presidential election.
Jackson stressed that the church was only 1.7 miles from the fire station.
“We did go up there and check the mileage,” she said.
While the board is leaning towards a move, Jackson confirmed that nothing was set in stone yet, and a final decision would probably not come until July. In the meantime, the board is hoping to meet with the commissioners soon to further discuss the pros and cons of relocation.