By Morgan Drayton
The writer is policy and engagement manager for Common Cause Maryland.
Marylanders broke voter turnout records in 2020. Even in the middle of a pandemic, it was “government by the people” like we have not seen in decades, with people from all walks of life joining together to decide who would represent us.
Election judges were essential to making sure we could all exercise our freedom to vote in 2020 — and they will be needed again for the elections this year. In the typical election year, election judges remain largely in the background of the election process. They are ordinary citizens who do the important work of assisting voters through the process of voting while ensuring that our election are free, secure, and fair.
But in 2020, our election officials were brought into the public eye in an unprecedented way. In a year where Marylanders overwhelmingly made the choice to vote by mail, thousands of our neighbors answered the call to serve as an election official for the first time to help deal with the influx. They are the primary contact local boards of election have with the general public during voting hours and are responsible for the administration of voting procedures at each early voting location and precinct, ensuring a fair and accessible election for all eligible voters who come out to the polls. Without the participation of these trained volunteers, it would be impossible to conduct our elections.
And their participation is especially critical this election season as nearly every government office in Maryland, including the governor’s office, will be on the ticket this cycle. It will also be another unique year due to the Court of Appeals of Maryland’s recent determination that the state’s primary election date should be moved to July 19, which has far-reaching effects not just for the candidates running for office, but for anyone who plans to exercise their voting rights this election season.
The change in date is largely due to legal challenges over congressional districts drawn by the general assembly — a reminder that our redistricting system desperately needs to be reformed, so that the people of Maryland are the ones drawing the map and we can avoid issues like this in the future. The delay has led to questions of whether local election boards will be able to adequately staff polling locations on Primary Election Day, at a time when many voters and would-be election officials are away on vacation.
In previous elections we have had trouble recruiting and retaining enough trained election judges to adequately staff every polling location across the state. This can have far-reaching consequences, ranging from late poll openings (potentially reducing the amount of time people in the community have to vote) to elderly and disabled voters not receiving needed assistance or not being made aware of the support available to them at the polling place.
Your choice to step up and volunteer as an election judge today could make the difference between whether or not a person is able to vote in upcoming elections.
With the 2022 primary election right around the corner, it is critical that more Marylanders apply to serve as election judges. This is a paid position, with no previous experience necessary as training will be provided to successful applicants. People as young as 16 who are registered to vote in the state are eligible to serve and will get to learn firsthand how our elections are administered — an invaluable experience in an era when the security of our elections has been called into question. Individuals who are bilingual and willing to assist other members of the community are especially encouraged to apply.
Election judges are the heroes of election season, and this is your chance to serve our community and be an active participant in our democracy. If you are able to serve as an Election Judge this election cycle, please consider applying at vote.md.gov/JUDGEAPPLY