Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden sharply criticized a fellow alderman's proposal to keep polling places out of neighborhoods beset by crime and drugs, saying the move would "disenfranchise" black residents in public housing complexes.
Snowden, the Ward 5 Democrat and longtime civil rights activist, called Republican Wayne C. Turner's proposal a deliberate attempt to keep blacks from voting.
"This is just crazy," Snowden said. "We should make it easy for people to vote, and I see this as an effort to disenfranchise black voters who live in public housing."
Snowden said he believes the proposal, one of a series of suggested changes in election practices nowbefore the City Council's rules committee, would violate the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act.
Turner, however, said he proposed keepingpolling places out of communities plagued by "high crime" or "drug trafficking" because elderly residents would be reluctant to vote there. He denied any attempt to prevent or discourage blacks or public housing residents from voting.
"You can't put a voting booth in a high-crime place and expect elderly senior citizens to go there and vote," Turner said.
Snowden, however, suggested other, more politicalmotives.
He noted that Turner defeated Democratic opponent Michael T. Brown by only four votes in the 1989 general election.
Because Brown, now chairman of the Democratic Central Committee, enjoys wide support among public housing residents, Snowden charged, Turner wants to keep polls as far away as possible and make it harder for them to vote.
Brown said he suggested to Turner and other elected officials that the polling place be moved to the community center serving the Harbour House and Eastport Terrace complexes.
Ward 6 voters now must cast their ballots at a church outside the ward, the only voters in the city who do not have a polling place within their ward, Brown said.
"This is clearly targeted at the black community," Brown said of Turner's proposal. "It's racist, and it's designed to take away the vote from black residents in public housing."
Turner's proposal is one among many suggested as part of election-reform packages before the rules committee.
Five aldermen, Richard Israel, former chairman of the city's elections board, and Common Cause of Maryland have suggested changes in elections practices.
The rules committee-- composed of Snowden; Terry DeGraff, R-Ward 7; and Ruth Gray, R-Ward 4 -- is reviewing the proposals, then will make recommendations tothe City Council. The council has final say on changes.