Five months out from Maryland’s primary election in June, the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections is seeking about 650 Republicans to serve as election judges.
To boost hiring, about 80,000 registered Republicans were set to receive flyers in the mail this week and last, recruiting them to help run the 200 or so polling places throughout the county for both the primary and the Nov. 8 general elections.
The pitch is simple, Anne Arundel County Board of Election Director David Garreis said: “Please sign up to join our team and help us on Election Day.”
“Help ensure the process is fair and equitable,” Garreis said. “Everyone’s very concerned about that — as are we — and we want to make sure that we’re well-represented at the polling places by each party.”
Ideally, the judges employed by the elections board would be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans with a smattering from third parties or unaffiliated. So far, about 1,891 judges have signed up, about three-quarters of the way toward a goal of 2,461. As of last week, the board had hired 1,020 Democrats, 588 Republicans and 283 unaffiliated or third-party members.
The bipartisan model, which is enshrined in Maryland law, requires a member of both parties to sign off on ballot counts and complete other tasks throughout Election Day. The typical day for an election judge can be long. It begins around 5:45 a.m. when workers set up voting machines and prepare for the morning rush when polls open at 7 a.m. and can continue well past when polling places close at 8 p.m. as ballots are totaled.
“It was exhausting,” said Heather Briganti, a retired Severna Park resident and registered Republican who served as a chief judge at the North County High School polling place during the 2020 presidential election. Briganti, who is in her early 60s, said she is returning this year because of the positive interactions she had with voters, recalling ringing a bell every time a first-time voter cast a ballot and newly naturalized U.S. citizens breaking into tears after they voted.
“At the end of the day,” she said, “it was a wonderful feeling to know you helped people.”
Recruiting election judges can be a difficult task during normal times. But poll workers skew older — the average age is 65 — and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic may still be giving some prospective workers pause. Couple that with the primary falling just after schools let out and finding enough willing participants can be hard, Garreis said.
Some efforts have been made to draw young people into polling places, including an Election Day page program that will be deployed in Anne Arundel County this year. The program, championed by state Sen. Bryan Simonaire, a Pasadena Republican, will allow students ages 14 and older to serve as volunteers at polling places in exchange for service learning hours.
“You see a smiling face coming in there, a young person getting involved in their civic duty,” Simonaire said. “I think it’s a win-win situation for both the public and also for our young people.”
As an incentive, chief judges are paid $250. Voting operations and provisional judges receive $175. Reserve judges receive $225. Each judge also receives an additional $60 for attending a training session and preelection setup.
Briganti and another longtime judge, Debra Para, a registered Republican from Arnold who has served in the past six cycles, said they initially thought it was a volunteer position. Briganti ended up donating her pay to her local church, she said.
“I do it to give back to the community. It’s also a great way to be a part of what makes this country great,” Para said.
Both judges said they thought there might be some judgment cast between workers because of their party, but that has never occurred, they said.
“Being a Republican these days … you do worry going in there you’re going to be sitting next to a Democrat who is gonna know you’re a Republican and sometimes, you know, it just feels like people may be against you,” Para said. “That’s never the case during Election Day.”
Stephen Lee has served as an election judge for every presidential election since 1968, most of which were in other states during his 40-year military service. The past five have been in Anne Arundel County. The 72-year-old said he will keep doing the job until his health won’t let him because it’s his civic and patriotic duty.
“No matter who is running, it’s an act of patriotism,” Lee said. “It’s part of being a citizen of the United States.”
Garreis is hoping for a 1% to 1.5% return rate on the mailers, which cost about $5,000 to send out. That would provide an additional 800 to 1,200 Republican judges to staff polling places, plus a bench of reserve judges to fill in if someone is sick or unable to work. If the county still finds itself in need of more judges after the flyers are returned, it will reach out to community groups to sponsor individual polling locations.
Part of the hesitance to become a judge may simply be because people don’t know how the system works, Garreis said.
During the 2020 presidential election, then-President Donald Trump and his allies repeated unfounded claims of mass voter fraud. Despite numerous legal challenges, no fraud was uncovered. But polling has since shown a diminished trust in the national election system among Republicans.
An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted in November found just a third of Republicans would trust the results of the 2024 presidential election if their candidate did not win. That’s compared with eight in 10 Democrats and two-thirds of Independents.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Confidence in the integrity of local and state election officials in 2022 was slightly better, according to the poll, with 91% of Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 60% of Republicans indicating they were “very confident” or “confident” that they would be fair in their oversight.
Garreis is hoping that new election judges will learn the extensive safeguards and checks that are used to ensure election integrity in the county.
“The best way to learn about the process is to actually do it,” he said. “There are a lot of safeguards in place. There’s much more to it than comes through the news or hyperbole. I think people will learn a lot from doing it.”
After working on her first election in 2020, Briganti said she couldn’t understand the concerns some people have had about election security and the integrity of the voting process.
“And I don’t understand how [voter fraud] can happen because we had to account for every piece of paper on the floor,” she said. “We knew how many ballots we had going in. We had to rectify between ones that people had to destroy and start over. We had to account for every single piece of paper we started out with that day and make sure everything was taken care of.”
To qualify for being a judge, you must be a registered Maryland voter, be able to read, write and speak English, and work a 15-hour day with the ability to sit or stand for extended periods.
Interested residents should complete the brochure and mail it back to the Board of Elections or go to aacounty.org/boards-and-commissions/board-of-elections.