Montgomery County Board of Elections to review registration practices

By Washington Post April 24, 2017

Bill Turque, Washington Post

Montgomery County elections officials said they will review registration procedures in response to allegations from a conservative watchdog group that the county’s rolls are packed with ineligible voters — even as advocates and county Elections Board staff raised questions about the group’s claims.

Judicial Watch said in a letter this month that there was “strong circumstantial evidence” that Montgomery’s lists are filled with names of voters who have died, moved out of state or are noncitizens. It said the charge is supported by data showing more registered voters in the county than there are citizens of voting age (18 and over).

The group said it would sue the state of Maryland within 90 days unless officials show they have taken action to clean up voter lists and come into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act.

Montgomery is one of more than 90 counties in 11 states — and the only one from Maryland — targeted by Judicial Watch. Democrats have a 2-to-1 registration advantage in the county, which has a population of just over 1 million people and is the state’s most populous jurisdiction.

“Voter fraud is totally unacceptable. We take this issue very seriously,” Elections Board President James Shalleck, a Republican appointed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), said at the board’s meeting Monday.

Under state law, the party that controls the governor’s office holds the majority on state and local elections boards. The state board, which oversees the county panels, said last week that it will also review prac­tices in response to Judicial Watch’s allegations.

Records show that Montgomery’s total registration of 657,548 is higher than its voting-age population of 633,295, a figure that comes from census data.

But at the Elections Board meeting Monday, staff members said that there as many as 16,000 active voters in Montgomery who don’t show up in the census. About half are 16- and 17-year-olds allowed to register because they will be 18 by the time of the next federal election. The other half includes county voters who are living overseas, either with the military or in the private sector.

The disconnect between registration and voting-age population also reflects the lengthy process required by federal law to remove someone from voter rolls, board staff said.

It takes four years to “cancel,” or remove, a person, a change that can happen only after two sample ballots are returned with no forwarding address and the individual fails to vote in two consecutive federal elections.

Overall, the county has removed more than 76,000 voters from its rolls since 2015.

Sarah Brannon, director of government agency voter registration for Project Vote, told the board Monday that the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the “motor voter” law, was intended to expand access to voting.

The two Democrats on the five-member board agreed that there should be no tolerance for fraud or sloppy prac­tices. But they cautioned that ill-conceived sweeps of the rolls could inadvertently disenfranchise eligible voters.

“We also don’t have a tolerance for removing people from the rolls unless we’re absolutely sure,” said board member David Naimon.

In public comments, some speakers demanded an aggressive investigation and more.

The county’s GOP chairman, Dick Jurgena, called for the board to fire Election Director Margaret A. Jurgensen, saying that “the draining of the swamp needs to start here and now.”

Board members did not respond to his demand. At the beginning of the meeting, the board gave Jurgensen a citation for her 15 years of service.