St. Mary's College of Maryland political science professors and students testified to the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee on House Bill 366, "Election Administration and the Recruitment and Retention of Election Judges." From left are: Zach Messitte, Robin Ricks, Michael Cain, Jennifer Ridgley, and Michael Rohrs. Photo by Jeremy Pevner.
Md. House Bill Would Close Colleges on Election Day; Encourage Professors and Students to be Poll Workers
ST. MARY'S CITY, Md. - Professors and students took a road trip from Maryland's first capital in St. Mary's City to Annapolis to ask for a 21st century remodeling of Election Day procedures. Zach Messitte and Michael Cain, two political science professors from St. Mary's College of Maryland (SMCM) and four students appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 28 to testify on House Bill 366, "Election Administration and the Recruitment and Retention of Election Judges."
Cain and Messitte developed House Bill 366 after implementing a "Professors at the Polls" research grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The bill requires that public institutions of higher education be closed for normal academic activities on general Election Day. If passed, the new law would allow faculty and students to work as non-partisan poll judges and poll workers, as well as making it more convenient for students to vote on their campus.
The bill addresses several problems the professors uncovered last year while implementing a "Professors at the Polls" research grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Their study found that Maryland has a shortage of poll workers, an aging population of poll workers (with an average age of 72 years), and an increasing need for computer knowledge by poll workers. Messitte and Cain worked as poll judges in November in St. Mary's County.
"College students might find it appealing to work at the polls and earn $140," said Cain. When Cain and Messitte worked the day-long shift at the polls last year they said the day was onerous and long but worthwhile.
"Another important part of the bill is that it allows poll workers to work part of the day, instead of the full 14 hours," said Jennifer Ridgley, one of the students who testified. Ridgley is a junior at SMCM and attended Severna Park High School. She represents the college in Annapolis as a William Donald Schaefer intern for the office of the College's vice president for finance, Tom Botzman. Ridgley hopes to attend law school when she graduates and perhaps work in public office.
"This was a good experience and I learned that I had to be on my toes, and know the bill well, so I could answer the legislators' questions" said Ridgley.
Two other students, Robin Ricks (Baltimore/Mergenthaler Vo-Tech High) and Michael Rohrs (Annapolis/St. Mary's High), also attended the committee meeting and answered questions about the bill. Jeremy Pevner (Pasadena/Chesapeake Senior High) went along to report for the Point News, the college's student newspaper. Pevner is the managing editor of the newspaper.
The professors' testimony comes after their report in January to the American Association of University Professors and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
More information on the bill is available at http://mlis.state.md.us/2007RS/billfile/hb0366.htm