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Shortfall of election judges in Carroll County presents ‘challenge’ based on coronavirus concerns

With the Nov. 3 presidential election looming, Carroll County is facing a shortfall of about one-quarter of the election judges that would typically be needed, as the fear of contracting COVID-19 is proving to be a “challenge,” the county’s election director says.

Election Director Katherine Berry expressed concern about the situation Friday.

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“We have sent a survey out to our election judges. We hire over 600 election judges in a ‘normal’ election. So far, we have heard back from a little over 400 people. Around 130 have quit and we still haven’t heard from over 200 people, so that number could increase,” Berry said via email.

She also noted that some who have agreed to work as of mid-July “stated that if the pandemic gets worse, they will also quit.”

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There is a link on the Carroll County Board of Elections website for those who would like to apply to be an election judge. But even some new blood won’t necessarily solve the problem.

“Our particular challenge right now is that the type of election judges quitting are problematic because they’re mostly the judges in charge of the precinct — chief judges and the judges who would be responsible for same-day registration, provisional judges,” Berry said.

The issue is hardly unique to Carroll. Many election judges are retirees who, based on age, are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

According to The Baltimore Sun, Maryland is short some 14,000 election judges and David Garreis, president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, called it “an emergency for the local boards.”

“Every day, as the public health crisis increases and the news generally deteriorates, more of our election judges are dropping out,” Garreis told the Sun.

Few election judges were needed for the June 2 primary given that it was conducted almost entirely via mail in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Carroll County opened only two in-person voting centers.

Gov. Larry Hogan, however, has called for every early voting center to be open and every polling location to be open on Election Day to accommodate those who want to cast ballots in person for the general election.

Berry cautions those who plan to vote in person that social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be followed, significantly limiting the number of voters allowed into a polling place at one time and likely making the process more time-consuming than usual.

“Less equipment may be available, and lines can be expected,” she said.

Hogan also requested that all registered voters receive a mail-in ballot application that will include a prepaid postage envelope for easy return to the office.

“Voters who choose to complete the mail-in ballot application that will be sent by the State Board of Elections in late-August should know that once it is completed and sent back to the Carroll County Board of Elections, we will process that application and it will generate a ballot that will be sent to the voter by early-October,” Berry said. “Voters should try to send back their completed application as soon as possible so that they get their ballot in a timely manner. This will also include a prepaid postage return envelope. If a voter receives a ballot in the mail, but then chooses not to vote this ballot and instead comes to the polling place to vote, they will have no other choice except to vote a provisional ballot.”

Early voting in Carroll County will be held at the Westminster Senior and Community Center and the South Carroll Swim Club. It is set to begin on Thursday, Oct. 22 and run through Thursday, Oct, 29, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. Drop boxes for mail-in ballots will also be available at the early voting centers and the Carroll County Board of Elections office, Berry said.

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Berry also said she has requested to open a third center, either at the North Carroll Senior and Community Center or Manchester Activities Building.

“We are anticipating the need for it,” she said, adding that a decision is likely to made in late August.

Some consolidation of sites is also occurring.

“My Board did vote to move 5006 Fairhaven to 5001 Sykesville Middle School and 7005 Carroll Lutheran Village to 7007 Westminster Elementary School,” Berry said. “We will be having another meeting on July 29 to discuss further consolidations to address the lack of election judges. All voters will be notified of polling place changes in September.”

Berry said this will be an election unlike any other for Carroll County’s Board of Elections.

“For an office staff of eight people, an election of this magnitude will be a challenge because we are in effect facilitating two different types of elections — large scale mail-in election and full in-person election,” she said.

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