Election judges' turnout as critical as voters'

March 03, 1992|By Deidre McCabe and Joel McCord | Deidre McCabe and Joel McCord,Staff Writers vHC B

There was the woman in Howard County who backed out of being an election judge two years ago because she planned to start potty training her child. On Election Day.

Another prospective judge in Howard County ran through a variety of illnesses before finally settling on her excuse: She had an important meeting to attend.

A Baltimore woman called the morning of Election Day in 1990 to say she couldn't be a judge. Her husband had fallen in the bathtub. No, he wasn't hurt, she conceded, but "he might start paining later."

Whenever Marylanders go to the polls, Board of Elections officials throughout the state are left scrambling to fill last-minute vacancies left by polling place judges who would rather be sailing. Or shopping. Or doing almost anything else.

And this year is no exception, say elections officials in the metropolitan area, who fretted yesterday over their ability to staff polling places today.

"Even if we can't get enough people, we have to open [today]," said Doris Suter, elections administrator in Baltimore County. "There are no rain dates for elections."

L The judges come up with a variety of excuses, officials say.

"Every year there's a favorite --there's a classic excuse you remember," said Helen L. Myers, a registrar for judges in Howard County.

So many judges in Baltimore backed out claiming deaths in their families that Barbara Jackson, board administrator, began demanding to see death certificates some years ago.

"Now, they are saying they're sick or their child is sick," she said. "I can't tell someone they have to come in anyway if their child is sick."

Ms. Jackson said she recruits stand-by judges to replace the 115 or so she expects won't show up.

Mrs. Suter was trying yesterday to scare up judges to replace the "hundreds" she said dropped out over the past three or four weeks.

The judges, equal numbers from each party, take an oath swearing they'll show up Election Day to help run the polls. They are paid between $75 and $150 a day, depending on their job and the jurisdiction. And they can be fined $100 to $300 for not showing up.

Nancy L. Crawford, board administrator in Anne Arundel County, where 60 judges have canceled at the last minute, threatened yesterday to begin assessing fines.

Harford County officials have been warning judges there for years they could face fines for not showing up.

"We used to have some trouble with judges not showing up, but then we began telling them about the fines when they signed up," Rosemary Dather, Harford's board administrator, said. "We haven't had that problem much since then."

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