Baltimore County election officials fear they will find themselves having to play face mask police at the county’s polling places this November.
That’s only one of the headaches that likely lie ahead for the people who run our elections, the officials say.
Let’s say you are working at a polling place on November 3. A voter refuses to wear a mask, but says they have the right to vote. What do you do?
That’s what Baltimore County Elections Board member Bruce Harris wanted to know at a recent board meeting.
“Will somebody be assigned at each poll to enforce mask wearing,” Harris asked. “Some people wear it on their chin. Or don’t want to wear it at all?”
County Elections Director Katie Brown agreed some people will refuse to wear masks, although they will be required inside voting locations. And that will put election judges in a precarious position.
“But then if we don’t let them in to vote because they’re not wearing a mask, we’ve disenfranchised them on voting,” Brown said. “So I don’t know. Give me the answer. What do we do then?”
Harris responded, “Yeah, we can’t have a security guard at every poll so I don’t know.”
Poll workers put in a long day as it is, usually more than 12 hours. And this year, in addition to everything else, they’ll be doing a lot of cleaning, wearing personal protective equipment, and, they’ll have to make sure people are social distancing in a confined space.
Gov. Larry Hogan said he wants every precinct polling place in the state open for the November election. But election officials say not enough people are willing to risk the COVID-19 threat to be judges.
To deal with that, Brown is considering consolidating around 60 county polling places, but she said that will lead to long lines and upset voters.
“To me this is a big health hazard for everybody, for my staff, my judges and the citizens of Baltimore County,” Brown said.
For their trouble, election judges in Baltimore County will make $185 on Election Day. Chief judges are paid $250. The county pays those salaries.
Election board member Will Feuer asked if the poll workers could get paid more.
“I know this is horrible with the cost of everything,” he asked, “but are they looking to offer any more money or anything like that to try to get people to come back?”
Brown said the county turned down her request for more pay for the June primary.
A spokesman for County Executive Johnny Olszewski said that’s because there were only four in-person voting sites in June rather than the usual 230 polling places, so staffing them wasn’t an issue. He said the county will consider requests made by the county elections board for the November general election.
There is a vote-by-mail option, but it’s a two-step process. First, you have to fill out an application that is to be mailed to every registered voter, then send in the ballot you should get back.
On Wednesday, the governor chastised election officials for not yet getting those applications in the mail.
“I want to know why it’s not done,” Hogan said. “I understand it’s difficult to get people to man the polls but that’s their only job and it’s their responsibility and the law says every two years they have to do that.”
According to Donna Duncan, an assistant deputy director for the Maryland State Board of Elections, the applications are scheduled to be mailed out August 28. The state elections board meets next week to approve changes, then the applications need to be printed.
Getting people to vote by mail will be crucial to keeping polling places sane on Election Day.
Brown said those who say they have to vote in person should volunteer to be a judge.
Brown said, “Don’t be the ones that keep saying, ‘oh I have to vote in person because you don’t count my ballot.’ Come work my canvass and see that that’s not true.”
Ninety seven percent of Maryland voters cast their ballots by mail in June. But in that case, ballots were sent automatically to voters.