ANNAPOLIS — The head of the Baltimore City Board of Elections said he plans to hire 800 additional poll workers and state officials say they want to move the city elections office and warehouse facility into one location in an effort to resolve problems that cropped up in the recently completed primary election in the city.
City Elections Director Armistead Jones told the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee that he would like to add 800 new elections judges and chief judges to a force of about 1,700. The staffing boost would ensure that all polling places are adequately staffed and open on time, he said.
Jones, during his testimony, blamed absenteeism and some precincts that opened late on the “caliber” of some judges, some of whom he said were simply there for a paycheck.
“I do believe the judge issue is a major issue,” Jones said. “The caliber of the judges is a major problem.”
Jones said his solution is to hire additional judges for the general election. Initially, Jones said the city planned to hire as many as 2,100 judges for this year and eventually increase that to 2,500 leaving enough to cover all the 296 precincts in the city and have a cadre of fill-in judges who could be deployed in the event of absentees.
Elections judges are paid $165 per day and chief judges receive $225. Both are paid $20 for the three-hour training. Jones said those who did not show up for work would probably not be rehired or even surveyed to learn the reasons for the no-show.
“If people leave you hanging like that you most likely don’t want them back,” Jones said.
Jones did not say how much he expected the hiring to cost but said an agency surplus and some other cost-containment measures could cover the expenses. He did not disclose how large the agency surplus was.
Lawmakers suggested he reach out to college students at Johns Hopkins University and Loyola Maryland University to help fill the judge positions. Jones said he did talk to students at Morgan State University and at the Baltimore City Community College.
“When they see the money, they are excited,” Jones said. “When they hear the hours they have to work and what time they have to be in, they’re not.”
Jones’ appearance before the Senate Committee follows a controversial primary election in Baltimore City that included a judge ordering four precincts to remain open late after they opened late. The results were later contested amid questions about the chain of custody of some votes from a number of precincts in the city; vote tallies that didn’t match up with the number of voters who checked in; newly enfranchised felons who were said to be turned away at the polls; and provisional ballots that were counted before being verified.
State elections officials ultimately forced the city to decertify the election results to do an audit. The results were later re-certified with no changes in the outcome.
The election is now the subject of a lawsuit.
In addition to staffing and training judges, Jones said, the process could be improved by combining the elections administrative offices downtown with a warehouse facility a few miles away in west Baltimore. He said the logistics of operating two facilities that are sent different elections material set up the system for problems.
Linda Lamone, state elections administrator, agreed.
“I think one of the biggest problems is that the main office is not in the same location as the warehouse,” Lamone said, adding that the state will also seek to help the city board with best practices on handling provisional ballots and will be assisting in the search for additional elections judges.
Lamone also said she expects to ask the state for money for additional ballot-scanning devices. Officials in the city and other locations identified those devices as potential choke points should the one in each precinct fail. It could cost as much as $4 million, a cost split evenly between the state and local jurisdictions, to rent nearly 2,000 additional scanning devices.
Lamone said the cost will likely be less and is waiting for local elections boards to define their needs by the end of the week.
Such a request would need the approval of the Board of Public Works.
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