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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Wor. County Commissioners get support for redistricting plan

primary requests from speakers to the Worcester County Commissioners was to
keep polling locations convenient for voters reassigned to a different voting
district at the third and better-attended public hearing on proposed
redistricting plans for the 2014 elections on Aug. 1.

Despite a
summertime deluge, Commissioners President Bud Church remarked that the hearing
at Stephen Decatur Middle School was “the best attended of the three” and
assured rain-soaked speakers that the commissioners would give their comments
serious consideration. He predicted the commissioners would come up with a
mutually agreed upon plan.

hearings were held in Snow Hill and Pocomoke to nearly empty rooms.

The need
for redistricting was prompted by significant population growth in Berlin and
West Ocean City that was reported in the 2010 census. The plan aims to get each
of the county’s seven voting districts as close to a uniform population of
7,364 as possible, while retaining mandated minority majority representation in
the Sinepuxent District (District 2).

Mayor Gee
Williams spoke on behalf of the Berlin Town Council of Berlin, which would be
trisected under the plan, instead of remaining in its current two-district
configuration. He said town leaders supported the proposed redistricting of
county voting districts, provided that the county could find the funding needed
to provide a convenient polling place for Berlin voters who will be
re-designated to the county’s Western District.  

Noting that
under the proposal a polling place at the Stockton Fire Department would no
longer be needed, Williams requested that the commissioners consider
transferring the voting machines and election judges from the Stockton site to
Berlin to accommodate its reassigned voters. He suggested that such a change
would result in little additional cost to the County Board of Elections.

suggested that Berlin Intermediate School could serve as an adequate polling
place for Berlin’s Western District voters, even as it continued to also serve
as the assigned voting place for the Sinepuxent District. “The school on
Franklin Avenue has proved to be both easily accessible and have adequate
parking on even the busiest Election Day,” he said.

proposed that the Board of Elections consider using the school’s cafeteria, as
it has in the past, for the Sinepuxent District and the gymnasium for the
Western District. “The gym was used in the past as a county polling place and
has shown it is a practical location with controlled access for the purpose of
voting,” he said.

also requested a slight tweaking of the proposed dividing line between the
Western and Sinepuxent districts that would move it eastward from Harrison
Avenue to a line that would align immediately adjacent to Main Street. The
modification, he said, “would make the division between the two districts
become the actual roadway of Harrison Avenue, with residents to the west of
Harrison Avenue assigned to the Western District, and voters located east of
Harrison Avenue remain in the Sinepuxent District.”

Tom Terry,
president of the Ocean Pines Association, asked the commissioners for a more
central polling place in Ocean Pines and within District 5, which represents
the Ocean Pines community. While there are three polling locations for the
8,447 homeowners in the Ocean Pines community, only one is within the community
boundaries, the Community Center Assateague Room.

And that
polling location is technically located in District 6, but assigned to District
5, Worcester County Election Director Patricia Jackson said afterward. The two
District 5 locations are the Ocean Pines Library on Cathell Road and the
Community Church at Ocean Pines on Racetrack Road.

Judy Boggs, who represents Ocean Pines, said she wanted to keep the locations
as near and convenient to voters as possible. She does not want to create
inconvenient conditions that could turn voters away, she said, but polling
location assignments were done exclusively by the county’s Board of Elections.

said budget constraints might be an issue and the board is awaiting a response
from state officials before deciding how to proceed.

acknowledged that the elections board had a difficult task in deciding how or
whether to relocate polling place assignments. “The next difficult situation is
educating everybody” after the decisions have been made, she said.

The request
made by Howard Sribnick of the Democratic Central Committee for Worcester
County was similar to Williams’. By extending District 2 to maintain a
plurality of ethnic minority representation, the proposed redistricting could
inadvertently create a logistical problem for some of those voters, he said.

proposed, the plan could create a situation where voters in the southernmost
parts of the district have to travel a considerable distance to vote, he said.

“We are
concerned that this might result in fewer citizens in that portion of the
district participating in the voting process,” Sribnick said. “Addressing this
issue may require that increased resources be provided to the Board of
Elections for the establishment of additional polling places.”

Tom Dorman,
former principal of Berlin Middle School, had a different concern. He warned
against splitting Berlin into a three districts. The redistricting proposal
could dilute the political power that a more dense concentration of
voters-to-elected-official ratio would mean for Berlin in the future.

“If one person calls you, it may not be a problem,” he said, apparently
meaning that it might not spur a politician to act in response compared to
their overall constituent base. But, “if 100 people call you, it usually gets
your attention,” Dorman said.