Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Maryland officials, less than two weeks before the general election, are struggling to hire young, technology-savvy judges to monitor electronic voting machines.

“A lot of [younger] people couldn’t care less to be bothered with it, to be honest, which is a shame,” said Jacqueline K. McDaniel, director of the Baltimore County Board of Elections.

“We would prefer to get younger people,” Mrs. McDaniel said. “The job used to be a lot more simple. Now it’s a lot more complicated with the machines.”

Elections officials in Montgomery County, which has more than 504,000 registered voters and 251 precincts, said they are more than 150 judges short of their goal of 2,600 for the Nov. 7 election.

Officials in Prince George’s County, which operates 209 precincts for more than 430,000 voters, said their 2,511 judges will suffice for Election Day. Earlier this month, officials said they would need 1,000 more judges. They have been able to recruit about 300.

The Sept. 12 primary was marred in Baltimore because of tardy or absent judges. Officials expect to meet their goal of 1,800 judges for more than 324,000 voters and 329 polling places, but said it won’t fix the problem.

“Those older judges are really scared of those machines,” said Armstead B.C. Jones, president of the Baltimore Board of Elections.

“Out of the existing judges, most of them are not under 30,” said Mr. Jones, who has tried to recruit 17-year-old judges from the high school where he works, with little success.

“You say, ‘$150 a day,’ and they say, ‘Oh yeah, I want to do that,’” Mr. Jones said. “When you tell them about it, they’re enthused. But they won’t come to [training], or they don’t show up on Election Day.”

Voters were delayed on primary election day by electronic machines that rebooted after every 40 votes and judges unable to determine who had been registered.

Republicans and Democrats have raised questions about the integrity and security of electronic voting machines. Both parties plan to place attorneys at polling places across the state.

“The majority of our election judges are probably in our retired bracket, folks who can take the whole day and give it to us,” said Margie Rohr, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Board of Elections. She said county officials are “trying to recruit more technology-savvy judges.”

New technology has accelerated the attrition rate of older judges in Baltimore County and elsewhere. “The older, dedicated person is sort of gone for good,” Mrs. McDaniel said.

Barbara Fisher, Anne Arundel County’s elections director, said she is starting to see more younger judges.

“The younger folks don’t hold back when it comes to technology,” Mrs. Fisher said. “They’re not afraid of the voting system. They have more energy, more confidence. … I have two kids in the office who, you give them any task to do, and they can do it no problem.”

Each polling location must have at least one Democrat and one Republican chief judge.

Chief judges receive as much as $200 a day, and other election judges receive $125. Alternates are paid the same rate as the person they replace.

Judges are paid $25 for attending training.

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