Baltimore to pay for more election judge training after troubled primary

Baltimore is poised to spend $130,000 in additional training for election judges after troubled April primary.

Baltimore officials plan to hire and train 1,000 additional precinct judges to ensure that the November election isn't plagued by the same irregularities that marked the April primary.

The Board of Estimates on Wednesday approved spending $130,000 to train the extra judges. It is one of several steps election officials say they're taking to make sure the polls are fully staffed with well-prepared workers.

"The more knowledgeable they are, the less confusion and errors we have in the precincts," said Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., director of the Baltimore City Elections Board. "The better trained the judges are, the better the day will go."

The judges — 3,000 in total — will be trained by the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center for Public Policy to oversee balloting and assist voters at the city's nearly 300 polling places.

Hundreds of election judges failed to show up to work during the primary, causing confusion and disorganization at the polls. High voter turnout and a new paper ballot system compounded the problem.

A City Council committee will examine the failures in the primary at a hearing set for 5 p.m. Oct. 19. State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh won the Democratic nomination for mayor. Former radio host Alan Walden won the Republican nomination.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Wednesday pointed out that elections are run by state officials.

"I don't control the Board of Elections or their training. The governor appoints the board members to do that work," she said. "I hope they get it right this time. ... I think it was very clear there were mistakes made."

A series of irregularities caused state officials to order the city's April 26 primary results to be decertified. The state investigation concluded that about 1,700 ballots were handled improperly, including 1,200 provisional ballots that were scanned into the tally without judges having verified that voters were eligible. An additional 500 provisional ballots were never considered.

Baltimore election officials blamed problems on the failure of 365 election judges to show up for work.

John T. Willis, an executive in residence at the University of Baltimore's School of Public and International Affairs, said he has "no doubt" the Nov. 8 general election will go more smoothly.

"Running an election is a complex enterprise," Willis said. "Imagine if everyone showed up to register their car on the same day, or pay their water bill at the same time. I have every confidence it will improve."

Willis said the judges will receive four-hour instructional sessions and will train in model precincts. Refresher courses will be offered in the days before the November contest, he said.

Instructors will help the judges better understand the new voting system put in place after the state switched from touch screens this year. Baltimore voters last used paper ballots before the Great Depression.

Election Day judges typically attend one session. Judges who work during early voting attend two.

The training began last week and will continue through November.

The city has paid the Schaefer Center about $2.3 million to train judges over the last decade.

Critics say the city wasn't fully prepared for the primary, pointing to ballots that were temporarily missing and examples of voters who were sent to the wrong precincts. Delays in opening some precincts led a Baltimore circuit judge to extend voting hours at four polling locations.

Jones said election officials have told judges it is important to give advance notice if they cannot work on Election Day.

Nearly 2,000 election judges were trained for the primary, which was about 250 more than in the previous election.

The city last trained 3,000 election judges in 2008 for President Barack Obama's historic election, Jones said.

A group of activists filed a federal lawsuit in June in an attempt to force a new primary. Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, on behalf of the city election board, has asked a judge to dismiss the case. No hearing date has been set.

Voters Organized for the Integrity of City Elections, or VOICE, has asked the court to declare the primary results "null and void." The group also wants federal observers to oversee the election and "systemic changes in practices, procedures and personnel."

Pugh received roughly 2,500 more votes than her closest competitor, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who decided not to file a lawsuit challenging the contest.

More than 140,000 people voted in Baltimore's primary, including 130,000 Democrats. As many as 100,000 more city voters could turn out in November to choose a president, members of Congress and the mayor and City Council, among other positions. In the mayoral election, Pugh faces Walden and Green Party challenger Joshua Harris.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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An earlier version of this article misstated which voters last used paper ballots before the Great Depression. It was Baltimore voters.

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