Is waiting to vote worth it in Baltimore?

By the date of publication, Baltimore will have elected the Republican candidate for governor, Larry Hogan, into office. Mr. Hogan’s administration is one of the many Republican midterm election victories, one that has spurned Baltimore’s talk radio and news outlets into discussing what exactly happened at the polls. But one thing isn’t being discussed: the wait time to vote, which is very important in a climate of unclear voter ID regulations. However, UB’s very own John T. Willis plans on answering that question on a local level, by finding out the wait time for voters in Maryland.

Professor Willis currently teaches several courses at UB’s College of Public and International Affairs. Prior to his time at UB, he served as Maryland’s Secretary of State and as the Chair of the Special Committee on Voting Systems and Election Procedures. During his time with the latter, Maryland saw landmark legislation on election reform and the incorporation of reform measures in 2001. Professor Willis also spent time on the Commission to Revise the Election Code, a commission that was the architects behind the successful modernization of the state’s election laws.

The study used a team of researchers to go out on Election Day last month, and collect the wait times at about 20-30 polling places throughout Maryland. Their goal was to ascertain whether or not Maryland voters are experiencing drastic wait time at their respective polling places. The study itself isn’t the first one that Mr. Willis has conducted; he was the primary investigator on the Voting and the Administration of Elections in Maryland study that was released in January this year.

This one study established a benchmark for wait times with voters, prompting the Presidential Commission on Election Administration to state that, “no voter should wait longer than 30 minutes at polling places.” According to Ann Gotten, the Director of UB’s Schaefer Center for Public Policy, the study will measure Maryland’s current output of voter wait times against the previously held standards to identify issues. Once identified, recommendations will be made by the Schaefer Center to how those times can be reduced for future elections. The study will be released this month, which will then be shared by the State Board of Elections at the 2015 Maryland General Assembly session. Look for the news of the study to also make the headlines on www.ubalt.edu.

Schaefer Center for Public Policy training judges for Election Day

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.