Local Police Prepare for Election Day


ANNAPOLIS (Oct. 30, 2008)—Local police departments say they are more than ready for Election Day.

Although intense emotions and the unprecedented long lines caused by an expected high voter turnout could be a recipe for disaster, police departments do not foresee problems at the polls Tuesday.

"We've identified polling sites and we will concentrate on those areas. We wouldn't expect any problems or tension, but we will definitely be more than prepared," said Officer Melanie Brenner, spokeswoman with the Montgomery County Police. "Our patrol officers will check in at the polling sites throughout the day and patrol the surrounding areas to make sure that everything is going smoothly, but we don't want to bring in additional officers if they're not needed."

Tuesday will mark one of the nation's most historic and tense elections that will result in either the first African-American president or the first female vice president. Greater police surveillance has been requested in several large cities, including Detroit and Philadelphia, in case violence or protests occur throughout the day, according to The Hill, a congressional newspaper.

But excessive police presence at polls has been called a form of voter intimidation.

"Heavy police presence at polls can intimidate voters. That's especially true in light of past rumors that people will be arrested at the polls if they have unpaid traffic tickets or violations," said Meredith Curtis, public outreach director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. Those rumors are false.

Declining to speak on the police department's specific strategies for maintaining peace on Election Day, Baltimore City Police Spokesman Donny Moses said his department is more than prepared to handle whatever may happen.

Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which have an unprecedented 558,000 and 498,000 registered voters respectively, don't expect any problems at the polls or surrounding areas. Nevertheless, officials say they will take the necessary precautions to ensure that everything runs smoothly this year.

"We will have a high visibility of officers on Tuesday. We don't provide officers at polling places, but there will be additional officers in the area. You never know what may happen because there will be a lot of crowds," said Cpl. Stephen Pacheco, a spokesman with the Prince George's County Police. "Our police department wants to be proactive in this situation, rather than reactive."

Anne Arundel County has not received any threats of violence or protests, but will use the resource officers at local schools to patrol areas and polling places in the county, said Anne Arundel County Police Spokesman Sgt. John Gilmer.

Although police departments in smaller counties also anticipate a larger turnout this year, they still plan to treat Election Day as any other day. Many say that they also are not aware of any planned protests in their areas.

"We're pretty much going with the same plan we've used in other elections. We're sending out officers to check the polls for safety issues, you know, to check for things like packages lying around," said Howard County Police Chief William McMahon. "The last thing that voters want to see is the heavy hand of the police department at the polls if it's unnecessary."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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