In the past week, 90 to 100 of Howard County’s 1,995 election judges have quit, according to the county Board of Elections.
Kimberly Phillips, a Howard County election supervisor who oversees the judges, said she has been receiving many emails and phone calls from people who say they cannot work the election season as planned. Phillips said judges are increasingly coming into contact with individuals who have tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing them to self-quarantine.
“People are quitting left and right,” said Phillips, who has worked for the Howard County Board of Elections for 22 years.
Guy Mickley, the county’s elections director, said the Board of Elections has no way to know the reasoning for why judges quit, though, according to Mickley, 25 to 30 individuals have cited the rising number of coronavirus cases in their emails.
The Maryland Department of Health on Wednesday confirmed 492 new coronavirus cases and eight more deaths as the two-week averages of newly reported cases and intensive care hospitalizations trend upward. Thirty-six of 50 states are seeing a surge in confirmed cases in the past week as of Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus resource center.
As of Wednesday, Howard County has recorded 5,647 confirmed coronavirus cases and 118 deaths, according to the state.
“The bigger impact is if it’s a seasoned judge [who is no longer working as an election judge], all that knowledge isn’t out there,” Mickley said.
The Howard County Board of Elections had 1,995 election judge spots to fill for the eight days of early voting, which starts Monday, and Election Day. Judges can work multiple days and subsequently one person could fill several of those 1,995 spots. Mickley said all voting locations will have 35 elections judges at all times.
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With less than a week from the start of early voting and 13 days from Election Day, the departures have sent the Howard County Board of Elections searching for replacement judges.
Phillips said she’s gone back to the drawing board, emailing the board’s full list of applicants to see if she can replace the vacant spots that way. The Board of Elections has a list of about 2,500 people who signed up to be election judges that it is now revisiting.
“We have plenty of people left over [on the list],” Mickley said. “Everything right now is going to be dictated by what happens in Maryland. If numbers explode in Maryland, we could see problems with judges.”
If Phillips and the Board of Elections are unable to fill the spots through previous applicants, employees within the elections board will have to staff the sites, according to Phillips. Mickley said it would take losing many more people on the 2,500-person list to get to that situation.
“If half the people quit, we’d have to scramble to get people out there. We don’t know what people would do if [the COVID-19] numbers expand,” Mickley said.
Mickley said he is not reopening applications for election judges at this point; he said the county is not in a place yet where it would need to consider that option.
“Even though we’re losing judges, we have judges to replace them and we don’t see a circumstance where it will impact the operation of the election,” Mickley said.