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President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House, early Wednesday, Nov. 4, in Washington.

Biden wins Michigan, Wisconsin, now on brink of White House

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Wild ride: Biden gains edge; Trump claims victory and voter fraud

EASTON — The wild 2020 election night turned into an even wilder day-after as President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden jockey for the needed 270 Electoral College votes to win the White House.

Trump had the advantage on Election Day and evening in key battlegrounds. But several of those states stopped counting ballots. When Michigan and Wisconsin restarted their vote counting, the advantage shifted to Biden. He took narrow leads over Trump in those states. Biden has been projected the winner of Wisconsin and Michigan though the Trump campaign is challenging those results via lawsuits and recounts.

While the Associated Press and other media have called Wisconsin and Michigan for Biden, Trump took to Twitter to claim victories in several battlegrounds.“We have claimed, for Electoral Vote purposes, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (which won’t allow legal observers) the State of Georgia, and the State of North Carolina, each one of which has a BIG Trump lead. Additionally, we hereby claim the State of Michigan if, in fact, there was a large number of secretly dumped ballots as has been widely reported!,“ Trump said on social media.

Twitter and Facebook both flagged Trump’s post and some of his other comments related to voter fraud.

Trump also claimed victory in the race during a 2:00 a.m. speech at the White House. The Trump campaign is also hoping it can reverse Biden’s lead in Arizona — a state Trump carried in 2016.

Trump campaign officials stressed that they were optimistic they would get to the needed 270 electoral votes by the end of this week despite Biden’s current advantage.

Nevada is scheduled to announce updated results on Thursday, Nov. 5. Biden holds a narrow lead there.

Democrats were concerned on election night that Trump was going to repeat his 2016 upset of Hillary Clinton. A few hours later they were optimistic about Biden’s chances and stressed the need to count outstanding votes in battlegrounds.

Patrick Firth, chair of the Talbot County Democratic Party, is optimistic of Biden’s chances of winning.

“We are confident that former Vice President Joe Biden will soon earn the electoral college votes required to be our next president and begin the critical work of leading, and healing, this nation,” Firth said.

He is also stressing the need to count outstanding votes.

“For democracy to work for all of us, every voter must have our voice heard and our vote counted. Over the course of the campaign, Biden encouraged his supporters to vote early and to mail in ballots if possible, to protect their health and prevent the spread of coronavirus. President Trump discouraged and cast doubts about voting by mail, telling his supporters to turn out in person on Election Day. Most supporters of each candidate did as they were directed. As expected, votes cast on election night favored Trump and those cast earlier, or mailed-in, favor Biden,” Firth said.

He said those dynamics have shown itself in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania where early votes are counted last.

Biden also voiced optimism with the state of the race. “I am confident we will emerge victorious, but this will not be my victory or our victory alone. It will be a victory for the American people, for our democracy, for America,” Biden said.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., also stressed the need for votes to keep being counted.

“In America, no one gets to end the counting of ballots just because they don’t like the way the count is going. We must count every vote because everyone has a right to have their voice heard at the ballot box,” Van Hollen said.

The next few days will see votes continue to be tallied in Pennsylvania, Arizona and other states. There will also be legal challenges following the Trump campaign’s lawsuits related to the Rust Belt counts.

David Reel, chair of the Talbot Republican Party, expects Trump to fight aggressively for an Electoral College win. “That’s his personality,” Reel said.

He also expects to see the White House fight to make its way into the courts and potentially recounts.

“I think the bottom line is we are going to see a lot of litigation. That is going to take a long time to dig through,” Reel said.

Open Streets: More accessible, pedestrian-friendly streets proposed in Easton

EASTON — The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy proposed an open streets campaign to the town council Nov. 2, pushing forward a plan to make Easton friendlier for outdoor activities and more accessible for bikers and walkers.

In an approximately 30-minute presentation to council members, Owen Bailey, the town project manager for ESLC, suggested re-examining the standard community model, which has long focused on accessibility for cars and vehicles.

Bailey emphasized that the pandemic has created a greater need for outdoor activity, explaining that “when COVID hit, we saw a huge decrease in automobile trips and a huge increase in people going outside for activity and recreation.

“But there was an increase in pedestrian accidents and deaths, even at a time when car accidents were at a decrease,” he continued. “There were not enough places for people to safely walk — in many communities, it was too narrow. By working to reallocate space we can create a safe place for people to walk so they can have outdoor activity and recreation.”

ESLC, which focuses on land and water conservation, is pushing a nearly-decade old message that has become more prevalent since the pandemic. The Open Streets Project, born in 2011 , has incorporated ideas and initiatives in dozens of cities and towns across North America, including in Baltimore.

Bailey stressed the importance of open streets. He said “we have become too auto dependent,” though “everyone in the U.S. is guilty of this.”

Still, he suggested a slower approach to incorporating any long-term changes, including pilot projects — such as closing parts of a street off for a day or a week — and asking residents and businesses to chip in.

“The key is to start small. We put up some traffic dividers and if that continues to work, we gradually build our way up to a big capital project,” he said. “We get information every step of the way, and if it is not working you can just abandon it and go on to the next project.”

Council president Megan Cook was open to the idea, though she and the town council did not discuss any permanent ideas at the meeting.

”The town shares your concerns and we’ve been working on this,” she said. “We extend our sidewalks and our public works walks them. And we do share your concern with making it (more) pedestrian friendly.”

It is unclear how a long-term open streets campaign would look in Easton, or how it would be paid for. Bailey showed multiple images to the council, mostly of streets sectioned-off by traffic cones and signs.

In Baltimore’s open streets initiative, an annual bicycling event on a 1.3-mile open street is hosted by the Roland Park Civic League. It runs from Roland Park to Druid Hill Park. The initiative is paid for by the Civic League.

In May, after the pandemic, Baltimore’s City Council expanded on the idea, and passed the Slow Streets Program, making 25-miles in the city more pedestrian accessible.

While Easton has closed off streets in downtown areas for outdoor dining and other areas this year, it has yet to offer a more ambitious idea to the open streets initiative. Some businesses may be opposed to the idea, though Bailey offered to work with them during his campaign.

Bailey said the mission is vital to public health. He pointed to health concerns, saying outdoor activity is encouraged but not accessible for the public under current community models.

He also said the number of pedestrians killed by cars is inexcusable. The U.S. Department of Transportation reported last year that the number of pedestrians killed in crashes in 2018 totaled 6,283 deaths, the highest number since 1990.

”More Americans died during traffic accidents than all the wars combined,” he said. “Streets are dangerous and unproductive. By creating more open streets, we can alleviate that problem.”

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Talbot County voters favor tax hike for public safety

EASTON — The votes counted as of Wednesday afternoon painted a solid apparent victory for Talbot County lawmakers’ proposed tax-related charter amendments — one of which effectively commits residents to a gradual tax increase over the next five years.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the initiatives laid out in Questions B and C, with each receiving about 12,000 favorable votes, and only roughly 4,800 and 5,400 disapproving votes respectively, according to elections data.

The amendment proposed in Question D, which authorizes the county to raise property taxes 1 cent per $100 of assessed value each year for half a decade, saw just over 10,000 affirmative votes and about 7,200 opposing.

The first in a series of tax hikes is set to take effect in the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1, 2021.

County Finance Director Angela Lane, who led the Property Tax Referendum Committee that set out to propose the changes to the county’s tax code, said of the initiatives’ imminent official passage that she’s “very pleased” by the response from citizens.

Lane said the county expects to bring in $750,000 more in tax revenue each year once the change is enacted and the 1-cent increase is imposed on residents.

At the end of five fiscal years, the county will have increased its general fund bank by more than $3.75 million a year — all of which the county says is slated to go toward improving public safety, namely the county’s law enforcement and emergency services.

As has been previously reported in The Star Democrat, the council is not legally permitted to designate the additional tax revenue from the increase to public safety, but the council members have given their verbal assurance that’s where the money would go.

The money is proposed to fund new building projects for emergency services agencies, equipment upgrades, and salary and benefits increases for personnel. Lane said public safety would not see its funding allotment increase in the county budget until 2022 when a new budget will be approved.

Lane acknowledged the county’s previously unsuccessful endeavor to get voter approval for the same three measures in 2018. She attributed the public’s sweeping support for the taxing changes this year to the tax committee’s work, and to public safety officials’ having taken the time to educate citizens more about the true implications of the amendments.

“A lot of people worked very hard to make this happen,” she said, adding, “That 1 cent is temporary, but hopefully increasing the property tax rate by 1 cent each year will get us into a more sustainable property tax revenue stream for the future.”

Council Member Laura Price shared Lane’s sentiments. Price said in a statement Wednesday she is “incredibly grateful to the citizens for helping the council prioritize the hardworking police and paramedics that are so necessary in our community.”

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden takes off his face mask as he arrives to speak, Wednesday, Nov. 4, in Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden wins Michigan, Wisconsin, now on brink of White House

Voters: Local government employees should live in-county

EASTON — Talbot County voters rejected a proposed charter amendment that sought to allow certain county employees to live out of county. Local lawmakers had pushed for the amendment citing their struggles to find qualified candidates among residents to fill government roles.

The margin was relatively wide for Question A responses as of Wednesday morning’s tally listed on the state elections website. Data show just over 57% of voters voted against the amendment to waive county residency requirements, while only about 43% voted in favor.

Question A asked for citizens’ approval of Resolution 285, which would have given the Talbot County Council power to employ a county attorney, county planning officer and county engineer who are not Talbot County residents.

Per the local vote count Wednesday, voters mostly agreed the county charter should not change from its current stance on the residency issue: only people who live in the county should be allowed to fill those government positions.

All five council members had pushed residents to accept the proposed change in the weeks ahead of the 2020 election, but many voiced distaste for the idea because, they said, if a person serving the county does not live there, they might not have as much interest in the county’s prosperity.

“If you want to work for the residents of Talbot County and receive a salary from Talbot County, then you should live here,” one resident remarked in reaction to the suggested charter amendment.

Council Member Laura Price told The Star Democrat ahead of Election Day Tuesday she was hopeful the amendment would get through, though it’s apparent now that’s not going to happen.

It is of note that not all ballots have been counted in the county as of Nov. 4, but unless about 3,000 more affirmative votes for the measure are still out on outstanding absentee ballots, the measure has a slim chance of gaining approval at this point.