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Maryland fills election judge positions, still looking for substitutes

Maryland has recruited enough election judges to staff its plan to offer voting centers on Election Day, state officials reported Friday, although a search for backup judges continues. In this June 2, 2020, photo, a voter talks with an election judge at Edmondson Westside High School in Baltimore.
Maryland has recruited enough election judges to staff its plan to offer voting centers on Election Day, state officials reported Friday, although a search for backup judges continues. In this June 2, 2020, photo, a voter talks with an election judge at Edmondson Westside High School in Baltimore. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

Maryland has recruited enough election judges to staff its plan to offer voting centers on Election Day, state officials reported Friday, although a search for backup judges continues.

The news was a positive development after weeks of local election officials sounding an alarm about a shortage of judges during the coronavirus pandemic. Because of the staffing challenge, local officials earlier this month persuaded the State Board of Elections to scrap a plan to open the usual 1,600 neighborhood precincts in November and instead open just 360 voting centers.

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During a state board meeting Friday, deputy election administrator Nikki Charlson said local officials have filled the positions needed to staff voting centers Nov. 3. Now they are working to build a “bench” of substitute judges, she said, in anticipation that numerous workers will drop out before Election Day.

“There’s been a lot of effort and attention paid to recruiting election judges,” she said. “We’re grateful for everybody who has shared the message.”

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Election judges check in voters, confirm they are registered, ensure they get the right ballot based on where they live, and make sure ballots are cast appropriately. During the pandemic, they’ve also cleaned surfaces, offered hand sanitizer and made sure voters remained socially distanced.

But the population of experienced judges contained many older people. Local election officials found that many of their past judges were unwilling to work during the pandemic because of concerns about the risk to people age 65 and older from the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus.

To compensate, election officials targeted a younger pool this year. Additionally, Maryland offered state employees up to 16 hours of administrative leave for working Election Day as a judge. And state employees can receive additional hours for serving at early voting centers, which will be open Oct. 26 through Nov. 2.

While the minimum number of election judge slots is filled, some of the state’s largest counties reported to the board Friday that they have certain specific positions that remain vacant. For instance, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are required to have Spanish-speaking judges at their voting centers and are still in search of those bilingual workers. Officials from those counties, as well as several others, also said they need more Republican judges.

Voters across the state are expected to get ballot applications in the mail this week inviting them to apply for a mail-in ballot, a move directed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Maryland is not mailing each voter a ballot this fall as the state did ahead of the June primary.

The applications were mailed to all voters who did not apply already for a mail-in ballot.

However, some voters who already had applied for a ballot may receive a ballot application. That’s because an application for a ballot had to be processed by Aug. 6 for a voter to be removed from the list of people automatically mailed applications.

Some local election boards have reported having backlogs of ballot applications to process. Baltimore City had 8,000 applications outstanding as of last week.

Two state election board members reported receiving the applications despite submitting them previously. Malcolm Funn, one of those board members, said he was worried about voters being confused by the process.

“I’m sure it’s going to cause a lot of confusion for people,” he said. “I’m on the board, and I’m confused.”

Charlson said voters should check the status of their mail-in ballot application through the state’s voter information portal. Once the application has been processed, the status of their mail-in ballot application will say “received.”

It will be up to local boards of elections to determine if a voter has applied for more than one mail-in ballot, she said. Voters can be issued a second ballot — that’s what happens if a voter loses their initial ballot — but staff then must cancel the registration number on the original ballot so both can’t be counted.

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State officials are in the process of planning for a central data center that will help local boards with processing mail-in ballot requests. Nearly 400,000 requests have been received and processed statewide ahead of the applications arriving in voters’ mailboxes. Election officials expect about half the state’s 4 million voters to participate via mail-in ballots.

Ballots have not yet been mailed to any voters. State officials will finalize them next week, and they are due to be printed starting Sept. 3. Officials expect them to be mailed to voters in late September.

The State Board of Elections approved voting center locations for the majority of the state’s 24 jurisdictions Friday, including the counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Charles and Howard. A total of 255 Election Day sites have been approved and 67 early voting centers.

Five jurisdictions have yet to submit plans to the state, including Baltimore City, although city election officials approved a preliminary list last week.

Earlier this week, city election officials toured Camden Yards to scout the potential use of the Baltimore Orioles’ home as a large-scale voting center on Election Day, a trend seen at other big athletic facilities across the country. On Friday, the state board approved a voting site at Xfinity Center on the University of Maryland, College Park campus in Prince George’s County.

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