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Saturday elections proposed

January 16, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown City Councilman N. Linn Hendershot wants the city to consider switching Election Day from Tuesday to Saturday in an attempt to increase voter turnout, but some political officials questioned whether the idea would work.

Religious officials also registered concern about a possible switch interfering with the Sabbath.

The voter turnout in the last city election, in May 2001, was 17.3 percent, with 3,159 of the 18,264 registered voters casting votes, Washington County Election Board officials said.

While Hendershot cannot promise the change would succeed in increasing turnout, the idea is worth discussion.

"I think we need to talk about it," Hendershot said. "I know 17 percent turnout is not satisfactory."

Hendershot thinks voter turnout would be higher on Saturday because people have more time to vote on weekends and some of the polling places would be less crowded because schools would not be in session, he said. He knows of city voters who said they don't vote because their polling place is a school with a full parking lot, he said.

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Hendershot said another solution would be to change the time of year the city has an election.

Democratic Central Committee Chairman Rick Hemphill and Republican Central Committee Chairman Mark Boyer said they have no objection to exploring the possible election date change and support innovative approaches to increase turnout.

But Hemphill, Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner and Washington County Election Board Supervisor Dorothy Kaetzel questioned whether turnout truly would increase.

Some voters would be busy on Saturday with errands, while others will be on trips out of town, Hemphill said.

"While the idea has merit ... with modern lifestyles, generally that is the day the families are together, you are doing your shopping ..." Breichner said.

Breichner and Kaetzel also said it would be harder to find people to work at the polling places on Saturday instead of Tuesday.

Two Hagerstown religious leaders say there is another problem with the possible change.

Jim Hoffer, pastor of Hagerstown Seventh-day Adventist Church, and Janice Garfunkel, rabbi of Congregation B'Nai Abraham, said they would not vote on the day of their Sabbath, and other members of their places of worship probably would not vote either.

Voting is not an appropriate act on the Sabbath, they said.

"It's a genuine concern," Hendershot said when told of the problem.

Possible solutions to the problem would be absentee ballots for members of those faiths or having a two-day election on Saturday and Sunday if that would not cost much more, he said.

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