Maryland Counties Pre-Emptively “Downsizing” Polling Locations in Face of Pollworker Shortages

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Two Maryland counties have voted to pre-emptively downsize the number of polling locations for the fall election in the face of pollworker shortages rather than risk being shorthanded on Election Day. WBAL has more:

Maryland election officials are trying to fix a shortage of election judges, while simultaneously working to ensure the state can open polling places.

In Howard and Carroll counties, officials have decided with fewer judges, there will be fewer polling places. Howard County is short 700 election judges.

“Election judges are very hard to find right now,” said Guy Mickley, election director for the Howard County Board of Elections. “With 700 judges down, what we decided to do in Howard County was consolidate polling places. So what we did was go from 90 individual polling sites down to 35.”

During its meeting Wednesday, the Carroll County Board of Elections considered how to handle the shortage.

“I think we can all agree that one of the reasons that this is even a topic is because we have so many unknowns here. I mean, if COVID starts to ramp up again and we don’t do any consolidation, and then I have a precinct that doesn’t have any judges, then we’re in big trouble,” said Katherine Berry, director the Carroll County Board of Elections.

Board members believe no perfect solution exists. They voted unanimously to consolidate voting precincts.

“It’s going to disrupt people. Nobody is going to like it, no doubt about it,” said Harvey Tegeler, a member of the Carroll County Board of Elections.

The state is trying to help with shortages, sending an email to state employees offering paid leave to anyone who serves as a pollworker:

Maryland Budget and Management Secretary David Brinkley sent an email Tuesday to state employees, offering 16 hours of administrative leave as an incentive to serve as election judges, requesting “state employees to consider serving as an election judge this November to ensure that Marylanders have access to polling stations and are afforded the opportunity to vote without undue delays.”

Last week, 11 News reported the state had nearly 14,000 election judge vacancies due to the coronavirus and people worried about putting their health at risk. That’s despite the offer of personal protective equipment for judges and social distancing.

“The election judge portion is really tough portion for us now because if you don’t have people in the polling place to work, you don’t have a polling place,” Mickley said.

The county election boards have until Aug. 5 to get their plans of action to the state board. They also are working on ways to let voters know about the changes and about early voting and voting by mail.

Local officials in Maryland are already frustrated at the Governor’s decision to forego an all-mail election in favor of traditional polling places; these pollworker shortages and resulting efforts to overcome them are likely to frustrate them even more. Here’s hoping that the call for new volunteers brings out enough new workers that we don’t see more “downsizing” across the Old Line State. Stay tuned …

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