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Volunteers helping seniors vote

February 11, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Nora Jean McHenry might temporarily be in the care of the Williamsport Retirement Village, but that isn't stopping the 85-year-old from voting in the upcoming Maryland primary election.

"It is very important to me to vote," she said after she filled out an absentee ballot Monday for the upcoming Maryland primary.

After voting for 64 years, Nora was able to cast her ballot again this year thanks to the efforts of volunteers coordinated by the Washington County Board of Election Supervisors.

Volunteers Emily Knode and Carroll Earp visited Twin Oaks at the Williamsport Retirement Village on Feb. 4 to assist the eligible voters who had expressed a desire to vote.

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Unable to go to the polls next Tuesday, these residents were nonetheless able to cast their votes via paper ballots.

"It was easy," Nora said. "It makes me feel good to vote.

In addition to volunteers and election board members, the Washington County League of Women Voters has gotten involved this year.

It all began with the telephone call.

"Someone from the League called and asked how they could help," said Dorothy Kaetzel, election director. "I thought of taking absentee ballots to nursing homes, so we suggested that to the League."

Kaetzel said laws require the election board to provide absentee ballots to residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities who want to vote.

"We call and ask the activities directors for a list," Kaetzel said.

Names and dates of birth are faxed to Kaetzel's office so they can be checked to see if they are registered to vote in Maryland. If necessary, a change of address can be arranged.

Sharon Mackereth, an election supervisor, said there are 18 such facilities in Washington County. Letters go out about two months before the election.

Dates are then set up for visits and volunteers are arranged to deliver and assist with the balloting. "They can do it that day or return it later," Mackereth said.

A pollworker who has been volunteering for two years, Knode said some residents have trouble seeing or hearing and might want a family member to assist with the voting process.

"It makes them proud to continue doing their civic duty," Knode said.

Kaetzel said efforts to bring absentee ballots to nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been going on for about 10 years.

"Before we did it all ourselves and it is time consuming," Kaetzel said. "We're tickled that the League has volunteered to help."

In a typical primary election, there are usually between 1,000 and 1,500 absentee ballots. The general election figures are higher - 3,000 to 4,000 absentee ballots.

"There has to be a reason for a person to get an absentee ballot now," Kaetzel said, noting a change in the law in 2006. One must be out of the county on election day - such as in the military - or physically impaired.

Ballots can be faxed out but must be either mailed back to the board office or brought in by election day. The deadline to apply by mail or fax was Feb. 5.

After Feb. 5, application requests had to be made in person at the election board at 35 W. Washington St., Room 101 in Hagerstown.

Applications can be downloaded from the Maryland Board of Elections' Web site at www.elections.state.md.us. They can also be requested from the county election board in person or by phone at 240-313-2050.

On election day, absentee voters who submit their ballots by hand must do so by 8 p.m., Kaetzel said. If mailed, absentee ballots must be postmarked by Feb. 12.

"There is a lot of effort to make sure all who want to vote can," Kaetzel said.




· The Maryland primary election is Tuesday, Feb. 12. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

· Applications can be downloaded from the Maryland Board of Elections' Web site at www.elections.state.md.us. They can also be requested from the county election board in person or by phone at 240-313-2050.

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