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Elections Board should explain its Nov. 5 actions

December 09, 2002

The Washington County Board of Elections will meet tomorrow in executive session to act on the City of Hagerstown's request to find that a local landlords' group violated state election law when it collected petition signatures at the polls on Election Day.

We understand that since the board will be consulting with its attorney, it will be able to close the meeting. However, we hope that afterward it will give the public some explanation for what happened Nov. 5.

That day voters who went to city polling places found members of the Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County collecting signatures for a petition opposing the city's proposed rental property inspection program.

Judging from the many complaint calls received at The Herald-Mail and reported by the elections board, many of those seeking signatures were actually inside buildings where voting was taking place.

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They were there because Election Supervisor Dorothy Kaetzel told them it was okay, as long as they weren't close to voting machines and didn't interfere with voters. Then the complaints started rolling in.

At that point Kaetzel said she called the state Board of Elections, who told her the signature-seekers shouldn't be within 100 feet of the polling places. But at an Election Day meeting, the local elections board decided it would modify the state's directive, allowing members within 100 feet of the polling places, as long as they weren't inside.

What advice the board got from its counsel is unclear, since Roger Schlossberg refused to share it last month when asked by a Herald-Mail reporter. Schlossberg did say "the board acted carefully, as is its custom," adding he was confident the board's decision would be upheld.

Maybe so, but what happens the next time someone has a petition or a cause and brings it to the polls? Voters need some assurance they won't be accosted within 100 feet of the polls when they participate in a process the Elections Board is supposed to be supervising.

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