Friday, February 20, 2009

Board of Elections Plan Targets Navarro Precincts for Closure (Updated)

If implemented, the precinct closure plan recommended by Montgomery County Board of Elections Executive Director Margaret Jurgensen would disproportionately close precincts that voted for Nancy Navarro in 2008. That fact is abundantly clear from publicly-available information that is easily available to the board.

Below is a list of all District 4 precincts, their planned diversions to other precincts, and their turnout and winner in the 2008 District 4 special election. Click on the image for a larger view.

Of the 22 precincts won by Don Praisner, 8 will be closed and diverted to other precincts while 14 will remain undisturbed. Of the 21 precincts won by Nancy Navarro, 13 will be closed and diverted to other precincts, 7 will be undisturbed and 1 will have its voting location changed (to the Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center).

But there is more. Of the 5 precincts that had the highest turnout rates for Don Praisner, none will be diverted. Of the 5 precincts that had the highest turnout rates for Nancy Navarro, 4 will be diverted. The two precincts in Leisure World, which went for Mr. Praisner by 15 points and gave him 44% of his margin, will be left undisturbed even though they were split in two less than two years ago.

Furthermore, Navarro won a disproportionately large share of precincts with high black and Latino populations. By targeting Navarro’s precincts for shutdown, the Board of Elections plan may very well inconvenience black and Latino voters at greater rates than white voters.

This is the second major blunder by the Board of Elections’ Executive Director in less than a year. Just two months ago, Maryland’s Court of Appeals ruled the board made two major mistakes in its rulings on a referendum proposed by opponents of Montgomery County’s new transgender anti-discrimination law. First, the court found the board inaccurately calculated the signature threshold for getting the referendum on the ballot. Second, the court found the board should have checked the validity of petition signatures rather than merely count them. The board’s mistakes cost the county untold thousands of dollars in unsuccessfully defending a lawsuit against the referendum by supporters of the anti-discrimination law.

And now the Board of Elections’ Executive Director is proposing a precinct shutdown plan that could very well swing the District 4 election against one of the candidates and potentially disadvantage black and Latino voters.

The Board of Elections must pre-empt another debacle in the making and kill this plan. And perhaps it should reconsider the continued employment of its Executive Director as well.

Update: One reader pointed out that former County Executive Doug Duncan called for the resignation of the Executive Director over two years ago.