Baltimore elections chief wants 800 additional judges in November

Baltimore's elections chief told a state Senate committee Tuesday that he hopes to recruit an additional 800 judges for the November general election, providing a cushion against the no-shows that led to problems in April's primary.

Armstead B.C. Jones Sr., the city's elections administrator, told senators that 1,700 of the 2,100 judges who had been trained to staff the polls showed up on primary election day.


He said the number of no-shows was greater than in the past — an increase he attributed to the state's adoption this year of paper ballots that are fed into optical scanners. Previously, the state used touch screens in elections.

State elections administrator Linda H. Lamone pledged to help the city recruit judges, but Jones said achieving his goal will still be difficult.


"Nothing's easy in Baltimore," he said. "I don't know that we can do this, but we'll try."

Jones' statements came as the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee held a public briefing about what went right and what went wrong in the administration of Maryland's April 26 primary.

Most of the discussion about what went wrong centered on Baltimore, where the State Board of Elections took the unusual step of rescinding the city board's certification of the primary results.

Among other close races, that election determined that state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh edged out former Mayor Sheila Dixon by about 2,400 votes to win the Democratic nomination for mayor. About 133,000 votes were cast in the 13-candidate Democratic mayoral primary.

Lamone told senators that the sole reason for the decertification was the discovery that more than 1,188 provisional ballots had been mistakenly scanned at polling places before the city elections board could verify that voters who cast those ballots were eligible.

A provisional ballot is given to a voter whose name does not appear on the rolls at a particular polling place. That ballot is supposed to be set aside so officials can later determine if the person is eligible to vote.

Lamone said the state board recertified the results after accounting for the discrepancies. None of the outcomes were changed by the state's examination of city results, but she acknowledged that there was no way to know whether a provisional vote was improperly counted.

Jones and Lamone both promised to improve training for judges before the general election. Lamone said she has formed a group of election directors from around the state to recommend best practices for handling provisional ballots.

Lamone also said the state of the city's elections warehouse on Franklintown Road left her "appalled." She promised to dispatch an expert this month to help the city with the logistics of operating the facility.

In addition to the problems with the provisional ballots, the city election was marred by reports of polling places opening late. In some cases, judges did not show up on time or buildings were locked.

Pressed by Sen. Nathaniel McFadden about the performance of the city's election judges, Jones emphasized the difficulty of mobilizing enough well-trained people on Election Day.

"We are doing the best that we can to hire the best that we can for a one-day job," he told the Baltimore Democrat. Jones said chief judges are paid $225 for working Election Day, while other judges receive $165.


Sen. Joan Carter Conway, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Senate committee, urged Jones to study what went wrong during the primary to prevent a recurrence in November. "You need to go back and do a post-op," she said.

Conway also suggested the city has too many precincts. Many of the 296 serve a small number of voters, she said.

Jones said after the briefing that while reducing the number of precincts could help, that couldn't be done before this year's general election. He added that such a move might be controversial.

"We've always gotten resistance from elected officials for trying to reduce the precincts," Jones said.

Lamone also cautioned lawmakers about adopting that approach.

"In the city, people are used to walking down the street to their polling place," she said.

Jones, whose performance has been criticized by some since the primary, came under fire Tuesday from advocates who said recently released felons — eligible to vote under a new law — were turned away by election judges.

"There was mismanagement," said Perry Hopkins, an ex-offender who helped push for the new law that gives felons the right to vote before completing parole or probation. Hopkins called for Jones to be replaced before November.

The panel also heard from Montgomery County election officials, who reported that the state's new voting system — which uses paper ballots counted by optical scanners — worked well even though five of the scanners at its 233 polling places malfunctioned.

"The election went very well in Montgomery County," said James Shalleck, chairman of Montgomery's elections board.

But Shalleck said county residents could face long lines during a general election that could bring out twice as many voters. He said the county elections board would prefer to have two scanners at each polling site to prevent lines from backing up at the machines and to guard against breakdowns.

That would cost an estimated $221,000 for the additional 158 scanners that would be needed. He said the board is seeking money for the county's 50 percent share of the cost.

Lamone expressed skepticism about the feasibility of providing redundant scanners statewide. She said that would cost the state $2 million and local governments an equal amount.

Her deputy, Nikki Baines Charlson, said the state board is asking local boards around the state whether they want additional scanners.

"Not every county is saying they'll want two per precinct," she said.


Recommended on Baltimore Sun