City to boost elec­tion staffing

Bal­ti­more to hire 1,000 more judges af­ter trou­bled pri­mary

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Yvonne Wenger

Bal­ti­more of­fi­cials plan to hire and train 1,000 ad­di­tional precinct judges to en­sure that the Novem­ber elec­tion isn’t plagued by the same ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties that marked the April pri­mary.

The Board of Es­ti­mates is ex­pected to ap­prove to­day spend­ing $130,000 to train the ex­tra judges. It is one of sev­eral steps elec­tion of­fi­cials say they’re tak­ing to make sure the polls are fully staffed with well-pre­pared work­ers.

“The more knowl­edge­able they are, the less con­fu­sion and er­rors we have in the precincts,” said Arm­stead B.C. Jones Sr., di­rec­tor of the Bal­ti­more City Elec­tions Board. “The bet­ter trained the judges are, the bet­ter the day will go.”

The judges — 3,000 in to­tal — will be trained by the Univer­sity of Bal­ti­more’s Schae­fer Cen­ter for Pub­lic Pol­icy to over­see bal­lot­ing and as­sist vot­ers at the city’s nearly 300 polling places.

Hun­dreds of elec­tion judges failed to show up to work dur­ing the pri­mary, caus­ing con­fu­sion and dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion at the polls. High voter turnout and a new pa­per bal­lot sys­tem com­pounded the prob­lem.

A City Coun­cil com­mit­tee will ex­am­ine the fail­ures in the pri­mary at a hear­ing set for 5 p.m. Oct. 19. State Sen. Cather­ine E. Pugh won the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion for mayor. For­mer ra­dio host Alan Walden won the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion.

A se­ries of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties caused state of­fi­cials to or­der the city’s April 26 pri­mary re­sults to be de­cer­ti­fied. The state in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cluded that about 1,700 bal­lots were han­dled im­prop­erly, in­clud­ing 1,200 pro­vi­sional bal­lots that were scanned into the tally with­out judges hav­ing ver­i­fied that vot­ers were el­i­gi­ble. An ad­di­tional 500

pro­vi­sional bal­lots were never con­sid­ered.

Bal­ti­more elec­tion of­fi­cials blamed prob­lems on the fail­ure of 365 elec­tion judges to show up for work.

John T. Wil­lis, an ex­ec­u­tive in res­i­dence at the Univer­sity of Bal­ti­more’s School of Pub­lic and In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs, said he has “no doubt” the Nov. 8 gen­eral elec­tion will go more smoothly.

“Run­ning an elec­tion is a com­plex en­ter­prise,” Wil­lis said. “Imag­ine if every­one showed up to reg­is­ter their car on the same day, or pay their water bill at the same time. I have every con­fi­dence it will im­prove.”

Wil­lis said the judges will re­ceive fourhour in­struc­tional ses­sions and will train in model precincts. Re­fresher cour­ses will be of­fered in the days be­fore the Novem­ber con­test, he said.

In­struc­tors will help the judges bet­ter un­der­stand the new vot­ing sys­tem put in place af­ter the state switched from touch screens this year. Mary­land vot­ers last used pa­per bal­lots be­fore the Great De­pres­sion.

Elec­tion Day judges typ­i­cally at­tend one ses­sion. Judges who work dur­ing early vot­ing at­tend two.

The train­ing be­gan last week and will con­tinue through Novem­ber.

The city has paid the Schae­fer Cen­ter about $2.3 mil­lion to train judges over the last decade.

Crit­ics say the city wasn’t fully pre­pared for the pri­mary, point­ing to bal­lots that were tem­po­rar­ily miss­ing and ex­am­ples of vot­ers who were sent to the wrong precincts. De­lays in open­ing some precincts led a Bal­ti­more cir­cuit judge to ex­tend vot­ing hours at four polling lo­ca­tions.

Jones said elec­tion of­fi­cials have told judges it is im­por­tant to give ad­vance no­tice if they can­not work on Elec­tion Day.

Nearly 2,000 elec­tion judges were trained for the pri­mary, which was about 250 more than in the pre­vi­ous elec­tion.

The city last trained 3,000 elec­tion judges in 2008 for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s his­toric elec­tion, Jones said.

A group of ac­tivists filed a fed­eral law­suit in June in an at­tempt to force a new pri­mary. Mary­land At­tor­ney Gen­eral Brian E. Frosh, on be­half of the city elec­tion board, has asked a judge to dis­miss the case. No hear­ing date has been set.

Vot­ers Or­ga­nized for the In­tegrity of City Elec­tions, or VOICE, has asked the court to de­clare the pri­mary re­sults “null and void.” The group also wants fed­eral ob­servers to over­see the elec­tion and “sys­temic changes in prac­tices, pro­ce­dures and per­son­nel.”

Pugh re­ceived roughly 2,500 more votes than her clos­est com­peti­tor, for­mer Mayor Sheila Dixon, who de­cided not to file a law­suit chal­leng­ing the con­test.

More than 140,000 peo­ple voted in Bal­ti­more’s pri­mary, in­clud­ing 130,000 Democrats. As many as 100,000 more city vot­ers could turn out in Novem­ber to choose a pres­i­dent, mem­bers of Con­gress and the mayor and City Coun­cil, among other po­si­tions.

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