Baltimore election officials will hire an independent center tied to the University of Baltimore to train city poll workers for the Nov. 7 general election - part of a larger effort to eliminate problems that beset the primary election this month.
The city Board of Elections voted unanimously to hire the Schaefer Center for Public Policy to conduct poll worker training and to recruit election judges so that the city employees who had been charged with that task before could be freed up to focus on other problems.
"This office staff is inundated with trying to run an election that had a lot of problems," said Baltimore Election Board President Armstead B. Crawley Jones Sr. "We need them to focus on this office ... right now."
An unknown number of city residents faced problems when they arrived to vote during the Sept. 12 primary because of failures with the state's new electronic voter check-in system and also because elections judges showed up late - or not at all - causing polling places to open late.
Much of the emphasis on fixing those problems has centered on improving poll-worker training . State Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone wrote a letter to city election officials Sept. 16 demanding that the city use the Schaefer Center to conduct all training needed for the general election.
Jones said it was unclear how much the arrangement will cost, though he estimated it would be at least $150,000. He said the center must perform 60 to 80 classes with poll workers in the six weeks before Election Day. All poll workers are required to take a refresher training course before the election.
Also unclear, Jones said, is who will pay.
"It's been indicated on the state level and the local level that they will look to see where they could help financially, so that's what we're looking for," Jones said. "Now's the time to go out and find the money."
Jones said the board does not have a contract or other written arrangement with the center. Officials suggested the city can "piggyback" onto an agreement the center previously made with the Baltimore County Board of Elections.
Executive staff at the center could not be reached yesterday.
Using the center is part of a broader effort to fix election problems the board discussed yesterday, including calling on government workers to serve as election judges and putting a police officer in every precinct.
Baltimore election officials will consider using the city's 311 center - normally reserved for complaints about trash pickup and other municipal problems -for calls that come in on Election Day. The center's staff can dedicate as many as 40 phone lines to take complaints.
The board also released data collected during the primary from the state's touch-screen voting machines that showed that 192 of the city's roughly 290 precincts opened late, though many of those opened only a few minutes after 7 a.m. Only 31 opened an hour late or more, according to the data.
City and state election officials have been caught in a political tug-of-war over the election, with Republicans blaming Lamone, who is a Democrat, and Democrats blaming local election officials, who are appointed by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Last week, city board director Gene M. Raynor resigned.
Yesterday, the board announced that Cornelius L. Jones will serve as the agency's interim director. Before the appointment, Cornelius Jones had served as the deputy director under Raynor.
"My goal is to have a smooth election," he said yesterday, before dashing off to his second meeting of the night. "And that all the polls open up on time."