Government Professor Paul Herrnson Provides Testimony to the Maryland House Judiciary Committee
Paul Herrnson, University of Maryland
Testimony on House Bill 123
Exempting Election Judges from Jury Duty
House Judiciary Committee
Maryland House of Delegates
January 27, 2010
My name is Paul Herrnson and I am the director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland. I have been studying many aspects of elections, including campaign finance, ballot access for minor parties, and voting system and ballot design, for roughly 30 years. A few years ago I ran a highly successful U.S. Election Assistance Commission-funded program to recruit and train college students as election judges. My center designed and maintains the Maryland Elections Center Website that voters use to check the location of their election precincts, find out about spending in Maryland elections, and learn about other election-related matters. I am submitting this written testimony on substituting poll worker service for jury duty because I am unable to attend the committee hearing.
The recruitment of election judges is an important issue in election administration. Elections are the foundation of our democracy and poll workers play an important role in the conduct of elections. Nevertheless, individuals who are qualified to serve as poll workers are often in short supply and recruiting them can be a major challenge.
There are a number of ways to improve the recruitment of election judges. Some involve reducing the costs associated with such service; others involve increasing the benefits one derives from it. The costs of serving as an election judge include sacrificing time and income and working a long, sometimes grueling day at the polls. In some localities, not necessarily in Maryland, employers have been known to punish employees who take time off to work as election judges. The benefits of serving as an election judge include the personal satisfaction received from providing a valuable public service, working with others who believe that good government requires the participation of good people, and the public recognition one gets when working at a polling place.
How can one improve the poll worker experience and recruit more poll workers? This question can be addressed by assessing costs and especially benefits.
The costs cannot be easily reduced. Perhaps one can schedule training sessions at times that prospective election judges will find more convenient. Shortening the amount of time an election judge is required to work on Election Day or raising the stipends they receive also are possibilities, but given existing shortages of poll workers and budget constraints they are unadvisable at this time.
The benefits can be more readily enhanced by excusing citizens who work as election judges from jury service for one or more years. It should be noted that this reform can be implemented with little increased government spending. The lists that are used to call citizens for jury duty already exist, and these can be readily used to invite citizens to substitute working as election judges for jury duty.
Once advertised and in place for a few years, odds are that a substantial number of citizens will choose the election judge option. Here is why: First, there is the matter of convenience. The election judge option offers citizens significant control over when they will perform a required pubic service that jury duty does not. One can be called to jury duty at any time and some trials last several days, while elections take place on one day and many alternative dates and locations are available for poll working training. Second, the psychological rewards of serving as an election judge are generally greater than those derived from serving on a jury. As noted above, election judges experience camaraderie and public recognition. Courtroom proceedings and jury decision making, on the other hand, involve conflict determining the guilt or innocence of an individual who is accused of committing one or more criminal acts. The jury experience is often stressful and unpleasant; the poll worker experience is more positive and rewarding.
In short, allowing citizens to substitute service as an election judge for jury duty has the potential to improve the recruitment of qualified election judges and improve the election process. Of course, there are other options, such as to simply use public rolls to recruit both election judges and jury members depending where the greatest need is at a given time. However, this would deny citizens the option to make their own choices and would probably be met with some hostility.
I wish the committee’s members well in deliberating House Bill 123.
Thank you for allowing me to express my views.