SNOW HILL – Funding for an early voting location in Pocomoke was one of the first things cut by the Worcester County Commissioners in a budget work session this week.
The commissioners on Tuesday voted to eliminate $126,709 in budget funding that would have been required to set up a second early voting location in Pocomoke. Though early voting is typically offered in Berlin, a community group approached the commissioners in February seeking a second site in Pocomoke. The commissioners voted 5-2 on Tuesday to cut the associated $126,709 in funding from the budget, in spite of a plea from Pocomoke area Commissioner Josh Nordstrom.
“I may be on the losing end of this but I’m asking you, for the sake of democracy, the sake of the people of the county, to consider at least trying this for one year because it’s important,” Nordstrom said. “It may not be important to most of the people sitting up here on this dais, or even to people in the audience, but it’s important to the people of Pocomoke and it’s important to the people of the southern end of the county.”
Nordstrom said that if Pocomoke residents wanted to vote early they had to make the one-hour round trip to Berlin. Many, he said, were unable to because they worked multiple jobs or lacked transportation.
“The fact that we would be considering taking this out as the very first thing today, to me is the exact wrong move,” he said.
Nordstrom added that the second location had been requested by a group that had presented the county with a petition in support of a site in Pocomoke.
“It is an excellent idea to bring more people to the polls and have more people vote,” he said.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said people had a multitude of options when it came to voting, as they could vote absentee, early or on Election Day.
“If it’s important to you to vote I think you can find a way to get there and vote,” he said.
He added that the county had no idea how many people would take advantage of early voting in Pocomoke if it was offered.
“We don’t know until we try it,” Nordstrom replied. “We won’t know what the numbers are going to look like unless we give this a shot. Unless we approve this. The fact that we’re going to take it out after it’s already been entered into the budget, to me, it’s sort of looking at the southern end of the county and saying you don’t matter as much as the northern end.”
Commissioner Ted Elder said the state was the cause of the current disagreement.
“For 200 years we voted on one day,” he said. “Our state decided to make early voting and that’s created these kinds of hassles and these kinds of problems. It’s cost us quite a bit of money to have early voting to start with. It seemed like everybody got out to vote when it was one voting day. There’s nothing I can do about what the state requires other than complain. That’s where the problems coming, because it’s splitting the county up now because someone doesn’t feel as privileged as somebody else. The early voting’s been nothing but problems since it’s been initiated.”
Commissioner Diana Purnell said early voting was extremely important.
“Josh is correct,” she said. “It has been a struggle for people in the southern end of the county to get down there to vote but to say that early voting is not important—it is very important.”
She said that the cost of early voting was supported by taxpayers.
“It’s not a burden,” she said. “We’re working for the county as a whole. You discuss these situations. That’s what our job is. If we decide we’re not going to do it this time around, then we decide to do that but don’t disparage the people saying you don’t have a right to come out here and vote.”
Elder said that was not what he’d meant. Purnell maintained that early voting was not a problem.
“We all have a right to vote but we don’t have a right to disparage the county saying we’re doing something that’s not worthwhile for the county when everybody’s paying taxes in this county,” she said.
The commissioners voted 5-2, with Purnell and Nordstrom opposed, to eliminate funding for early voting in Pocomoke from the budget.