The Annapolis Board of Elections must decide whether a polling place in the Eastport Terrace-Harbor House community center is too dangerous for voters.
Alderman Wayne Turner, who is pushing to move the Ward 6 polling place on President Street, says the public housing site is "a high crime area with a perception of danger that scares people."
"No one should ever be afraid to vote," said Turner, a Republican. "There's a criminal atmosphere there that intimidates and scares people.
"That's why I submitted the request to move the polling place until the city Housing Authority cleans up its act. When that happens, I'll be the first person to move the polling place back."
Richard E. Israel, chairman of the Board of Elections, said, "There has never been any incident at the site that I have been aware of
"But from various people who have complained to us, there is no question that the area is dangerous. We have to decide if there is a great enough public safety issue to warrant its move."
Complaints from some Eastport voters about the safety of the site led to an examination of the problem in January when a routine review of all polling sites began for the fall elections, Israel said.
Scared people do not vote, Turner has argued. According to 1996 election statistics, county voter turnout was 71 percent overall but only 59 percent in Eastport Terrace.
But Israel said there was no proof that crime was the reason behind the low turnout.
The polling site moved from Eastport United Methodist Church to the public housing complex four years ago. The polling place could be moved to Spa Cove Apartments on Primrose Road, Israel said.
Some voters think the effort to move the polling place is racially motivated.
"Some people think, 'It's a predominantly black neighborhood, so we don't want to go there,' " said Emily Pinkney, a Republican chief election judge for the polling place. "They have to stop thinking like that. I'll admit, at first I was concerned about the area and the crime I heard about, but my feelings were unfounded."
Elizabeth Wells, an election judge who lives two blocks from the community center, said it would be a mistake to move the polling site.
"I have lived here 23 years, and I have never had any problems," Wells said. "I've been an election judge for several years and have never seen any problems. You've got crime everywhere, but because it's a housing project, people want to make a big to-do about it."
City police officials also say complaints about crime near the polling place are exaggerated.
"The neighborhood watch program has been really strong in that area," said Sgt. Robert E. Beans, a community police liaison.
"The open-air drug market on Monroe Street in that area has really been brought under control by the neighborhood. The area has recently been turned around completely."
Pub Date: 6/04/97