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Little pain at the polls

Maryland voters reported several concerns on Election Day, including the presence of a uniformed police officer who allegedly electioneered too close to the voting booths at a polling station in Silver Spring.

Lindsey Fascetta entertains her 16-month-old son, Gus, while waiting to cast her ballot in the gymnasium at the Hamilton Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore.

A caller to the ACLU of Maryland’s 2012 Election Protection Hotline alleged that the police officer was approaching voters at Jackson Road Elementary School inside the no-electioneering zone, according to Meredith Curtis, a spokeswoman for the ACLU.

“There is a lot more electioneering going on than in the past,” Curtis said. “It can be intimidating to voters to have a police officer promote a position when they are about to vote on.”

Curtis said the ACLU notified the State Board of Elections and Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger.

The police officer allegedly was urging voters to defeat Question B, a referendum on a county ordinance that limits “effects bargaining,” or the right of the police union to negotiate a wide range of day-to-day operational details.

He was asked to leave and did so, but reportedly returned to speak with voters in an unrestricted area.

Maryland law prohibits electioneering within 100 feet of the entrance or exit to a polling place on Election Day.

Jeffrey L. Darsie, an assistant attorney general assigned to the State Board of Elections, said he couldn’t comment on the specific incident involving the Montgomery County police officer. Generally speaking, however, he said that when the Board of Elections receives this type of information the board provides it to the state’s attorney or the state prosecutor.

The Office of the Attorney General set up its own hotline to receive complaints of voter intimidation, voter suppression, and voter misinformation.

Kirk Holub, a retired police officer, answered the phone at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 on Tuesday. Holub, who was volunteering to work against Question B, said a police officer was scheduled to work at the Jackson Road polling station at 7 a.m., but that all of the officers were told to work the polls in their off-duty clothes.

“We don’t allow anyone to work the poll in uniform,” he said.

Voters in Baltimore also called into the ACLU’s hotline to report that they were provided with incomplete information about which line to wait in at two separate polling locations that had combined precincts. As a result, they ended up waiting in the wrong line.

One of those locations was at 2400 Norman Ave. and the other was at Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle School.

A woman in Greenbelt also reported to the ACLU that she waited in a line for two hours at Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School, only to be told that her registration was canceled because she had moved to and voted in Florida. The voter said this was not the case.

Curtis said the woman planned to return to the polling location later on Election Day to file a provisional ballot, and that the organization is investigating the incident.

The ACLU distributed 20,000 Maryland Voter Empowerment Cards to advocacy groups, get-out-the-vote organizations, community groups, political parties, and voters across the state, to help make sure that voters know their rights.

After the election, the ACLU will issue a report on Election Day problems reported to the hotline. The report will also offer recommendations on how to help build a stronger election system in the future.

The ACLU’s Election Protection Campaign has been in existence since 2004, according to Amy Cruice, ACLU of Maryland’s Election Protection campaign director.