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Our View: OT for protecting polling places a worthwhile expenditure

We are all for Carroll County Government showing fiscal restraint, working within a budget and watching every penny. But given how responsive the county has been to security concerns over the past few years, and how contentious the upcoming presidential election could become, we’re surprised the commissioners opted not to approve overtime for Carroll County Sheriff’s Office deputies to provide extra protection for the primary election.

Confrontations at polling places and concerned election judges prompted Carroll County’s election director, Katherine Berry, to request “more of a presence” of police at polls for the 2020 elections. But the county commissioners, who in recent years have found significant money to improve security at Carroll County Public Schools and at the county government building, did not approve the request for this spring’s primary, citing budgetary constraints.

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Carroll County employs nearly 700 election judges to operate 36 polling places, and some of those judges expressed concern for their safety during the 2018 election cycle, Berry told the commissioners. Some polling places are inside school gymnasiums and cafeterias where there is only one entrance and exit, according to Berry.

She told us that judges feel like sitting ducks.

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During one recent election, a citizen became angry that their polling place had moved and threatened the election judges inside the precinct, Berry said. There have also been confrontations outside voting places when the Board of Elections got involved and called the police, she said, and some people stood outside polling places at night after they closed while judges counted votes inside the building, according to Berry. She also noted reports on the news about violent incidents elsewhere.

“Have we had any major showstopping incidents? No, but I also would like to think that we’re trying to be proactive in this,” Berry told the commissioners.

Indeed, similar arguments were made when violence across the nation served as at least a partial impetus for beefing up security in schools and the county government building the past two years.

Berry suggested law enforcement officers rotate between two to five polling places, which would require overtime pay.

Capt. Dave Stem of the Sheriff’s Office estimated it would cost between $12,000 and $17,000 in overtime pay to cover two early voting centers and 2020 polling places for the primary election. As for the general election, it would cost between $18,500 and $24,000 for three early voting centers plus the regular polling places.

There was no vote, but the commissioners suggested Berry and Stem return with their request for the general election during the 2021 budget planning process since the November election will occur during the next fiscal year.

We certainly don’t expect any violence — although who ever does? — but more police presence would also discourage coercion or threats during what figures to be a hyper-partisan election in which emotions are expected to be running high.

No one should have even the slightest fear when doing their civic duty, which we hold sacred in this country. And no judge should be worried about what might happen while taking a leading role in our democratic process. It only makes sense that uniformed officers would serve as deterrents and that response time to any incident will be far quicker with a deputy already in the vicinity.

Fewer than half as many voters will turn out April 28 for the primary as for the November general election. While we hope the Sheriff’s Office will find a way to provide a bit of an added presence for the primary, we certainly expect the commissioners to budget for the overtime in all future elections.

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