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Bill from Carroll delegates would allow local election officials to live out of state

Carroll County Delegate Haven Shoemaker laughs with Carroll County Delegate April Rose at the opening of the General Assembly in Annapolis.
Carroll County Delegate Haven Shoemaker laughs with Carroll County Delegate April Rose at the opening of the General Assembly in Annapolis. (Joshua McKerrow, staff / Capital Gazette)

A bill sponsored by two Carroll County delegates would allow election officials who work for local jurisdictions to live in other states, so long as they are registered to vote.

House Bill 569, co-sponsored by Dels. April Rose and Haven Shoemaker, both Republicans representing District 5, would repeal the requirement that a local board of elections employee be a registered voter in Maryland. That would, for example, allow an election official working in a county such as Carroll that borders Pennsylvania to move north of the state line without losing their job.

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Shoemaker, however, said he does not expect the bill to go anywhere this year.

“I’m on the election law subcommittee, and we have not even discussed that bill at this point in subcommittee,” Shoemaker told the Times. The last day of Maryland’s 2019 legislative session in Annapolis is April 8. Shoemaker said he would be willing to take the bill up next legislative session.

Rose said she’s been told the bill will not advance this year and has been “frustrated” with the process surrounding it — and that she’s not been told any reasons why it won’t advance.

Though the bill is unlikely to advance this year, it has a deep bench of support. Katherine Berry, election director for the Carroll County Board of Elections, testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, and letters of support for the bill were sent from other election boards, including those in Anne Arundel, Worcester, Washington and Montgomery counties.

Berry, during her testimony, said elections directors like herself and others in the state “should be given the ability to hire only the best qualified individuals no matter where they are registered to vote.”

And, she pointed out, the Maryland State Board of Elections is allowed to hire employees who reside outside of Maryland.

“We’ve heard again and again this session that [Carroll County] and other counties are really having a hard time getting people to serve, so this was kind of an outside of the box-type approach to expanding the pool,” Shoemaker said.

Election judges would still be required to be registered in Maryland under the bill as amended.

Berry, who’s been with the board since 2006 and director since 2015, said she’s having an “increasingly difficult time” attracting job applicants because of private-sector competition. Allowing people to live outside of the state gives more flexibility, which applicants find appealing, Berry said.

“We are just looking for being able to be on the same as everybody else,” Berry said, noting that other county agencies don’t have residency requirements. “We’re a nonpartisan office, we’re not elected officials. It shouldn’t matter if a person lives in West Virginia or Virginia or Pennsylvania, because they still have a vested interest in doing their job and doing it to the best of their ability.”

And, for at least one election official in the state, the issue is personal.

In his letter of support of the bill, Eric Olsen, an elections official in Montgomery County, said he “fell in love with someone … from Virginia” at the same time he accepted the job in Maryland.

“[W]hen we get married I will have a tough decision to make about my job and my future. I'm more than happy to make the commute each day from Virginia. But the restrictive (and seemingly archaic) laws that govern residency make this difficult and will likely mean I won't have a future with the Montgomery County Board of Elections,” Olsen wrote.

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