By Andrew R. Koch
Last spring, the University of Baltimore’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy trained 2,000 judges to man polling stations throughout Baltimore for the Maryland Primaries in June. Another round of training sessions is underway to prepare judges for the Nov. 4 general election.
Election Judge training started on Sept. 19 and will continue through Sept. 27 in the Thumel Business Center. Training will continue between Oct. 1 and Oct. 9 at Winston Middle School on Winston Avenue in Northeast Baltimore. The program is under the direction of Government and Public Policy Professor John Willis (who was Maryland Secretary of State from 1995-2003), and will consist of three three-hour training sessions each day. The Schaefer Center election judges will be working in six early voting centers between Oct. 23 and Oct. 30, and 296 more voting centers on Election Day. Dr. Ann Cotten, Director of the Schaefer Center, says there’s only a limited amount of time to get all the election judges trained ahead of Election Day.
“Total, we’ll be training about 2,400 people in the next couple weeks, so it’s a very short window, so we have to be very efficient with our time and resources,” Dr. Cotten said.
She added that after all the election judge trainees are brought together for a presentation and lecture about election law, they’ll then break out into classrooms of about 25 people each. In the classrooms, trainees will get to do hands-on training to learn how to set up and then use the polling machines and poll books in what Dr. Cotten calls “a good opportunity” to do a run-through of what it’ll be like on Election Day.
Election Judges are selected by the Baltimore City Board of Elections. Dr. Cotten explained that the Board of Elections requires a mix of judges from both major political parties. The Schaefer Center’s responsibility is to register and train the judges. The center features both a 20-station call center and an online training system for election judges.
“By bringing these assets of the Schaefer Center to bear, we can more efficiently run election judge training,” Dr. Cotten said.
The Schaefer Center has been hold- ing training for election judges since 2006. While Dr. Cotten said elections in the city have gone smoothly since then, the Schaefer Center didn’t start offering election judge training until after what Professor Willis described as a “disastrous” primary election in 2006.
“Almost 25 or 30 percent of the precincts opened late. They (the election workers) didn’t know how to use some of the new equipment. They had just a whole spate of problems in the 2006 primary,” Willis said, who’s also a Schaefer Center Faculty Fellow.
“We were asked by the state and the city Election Board to start providing training for the Baltimore City election judges.”
After that primary, Willis said the Schaefer Center trained more than 3,000 election workers in 22 days ahead of the 2006 general election. He said the call center was even used to give election judges reminder calls to show up to work at their assigned polling places on Election Day.
“We went from a situation where the city had a very bad experience with elections to where now, we have 294 precincts; 98 percent of them are opening on time. The error rates have gone down significantly,” Willis said.
“You rarely hear about a complaint in Baltimore City like you do in other larger jurisdictions about how the election has been administered.”
According to Dr. Cotten, 86 percent of election judges are returning, and they come back to get updates on changes in election regulations. Professor Willis says that as a result of the training, the average age of election judges has fallen by about a decade to around 60, indicating that younger people are getting involved in the election process as judges. However, he says most of the election judges in the city are still seniors in their 60s and 70s.