- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson said yesterday he is frustrated about having to learn through news reports that the Bush administration plans to send 30,000 Iraqis to his county to vote in their nation’s elections.

“I’m just shocked,” Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, said yesterday after an afternoon press conference in Upper Marlboro called to discuss security measures.

Mr. Johnson said the administration has selected the Ramada Inn and Conference Center in New Carrollton to hold voter registration Monday through Jan. 23, then the elections from Jan. 28 through 30.

“They chose it,” he said. “They didn’t tell us. Local officials deserve to know what’s going on with something this big.”

Mr. Johnson said one of his biggest concerns is that the security plan called for just six private guards.

“Six people, private security?” he asked. “We’re just flabbergasted.”

Iraqi citizens or former Iraqi citizens with U.S. citizenship are eligible to vote, provided they are 18 years old. Any person whose father was born in Iraq is also eligible.

There are five polling places nationwide, but the site in Prince George’s County is the only one on the East Coast. The others are in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Nashville, Tenn.

About 250,000 people are expected to be eligible to vote nationwide, and they must register and vote in person.

Prince George’s County officials said they expect about 20,000 to 30,000 people to register and vote in the county. They said they expect many to stay in the county between the registration dates and the election dates.

Prince George’s County Public Safety Director Vernon Herron said a group called the International Organization of Migration is organizing the election in the United States and several other countries.

Mr. Herron said he learned two weeks ago that the group was considering a site in Prince George’s County along with other sites on the East Coast, but he was surprised by the Ramada Inn announcement because it was not the place they had mentioned initially.

Mr. Johnson said neither U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Democrat, nor Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, had been notified in advance that Prince George’s County had been selected.

He also said he had no idea why the county was chosen.

“I wouldn’t have chosen Prince George’s County,” Mr. Johnson said. “We would rather it be somewhere else.”

Still, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Herron and the county’s chief administrative officer, Jacqueline Brown, said they spent yesterday scrambling to develop a security plan that draws on all Prince George’s County public safety agencies, as well as those of the state police and the FBI.

They pledged to be prepared to protect county residents and to safeguard the election process.

“What are we afraid of?” Mrs. Brown asked. “We would be not so much afraid of, as prepared for, any of the tensions between the groups that are coming to vote. That would be no different here [than] it would be in Iraq. We must be prepared for that.”

Mr. Johnson said he is expecting the Department of Homeland Security to pay the county’s security expenses.

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