Prior to the municipal incorporation administrative authority over elections held in Baltimore was exercised by the Baltimore County Levy Court. The 1797 City Charter vested this function in the Mayor through his appointment of elections judges for each city ward and Baltimore County elections continued under the jurisdiction of the Levy Court until 1826 when the Baltimore County Commissioners assumed responsibilty.
Doubts concerning the city governments's ability to fairly administer voting procedures forced the state in 1860 to transfer responsibility for elections to the newly created and state controlled board of police commissioners. This body was empowered to subdivide the city's wards into election precincts, appoint judges of election for each, and prevent all forms of election fraud. Sixteen years later, the Maryland Legislature established the Board of Supervisers of Elections for Baltimore City to superintend all phases of municipal elections. Up to the present day this board continues to function essentially as originally determined, including the appointment of election judges for all city precincts.
Baltimore election officials from the late eighteeenth century to the early 1900s were greatly concerned with suppressing irregular activities such as balloting by ineligible voters, individuals casting multiple votes, and ballot box stuffing. Several measures were taken at various times to curb these abuses; the use of poll books were among the first efforts in this direction. Judges of election for each district were required to record in two volumes the names of all residents voting in a specific election. This procedure theoretically prevented a person from voting more than once and also allowed a comparison between the total number of voters and the total number of votes cast in each district. After elections, Baltimore City and County poll books were turned over to the county court until the legal separation of the city and county in 1851. After this date, the Baltimore City Superior Court received municipal poll books while the Baltimore County volumes continued to be deposited in the county court.
In 1837 the general assembly passed "an act to guard against Fraud in the exercise of the Elective Franchise in the City of Baltimore." Among other provisions, the law mandated yearly registration of all city voters. Administration of this activity was performed by three officers of registration appointed by the governor for each ward. All persons desiring to cast ballots were to appear before the registration officials for their ward of residence and to prove their eligibility to vote under state law. If qualified, the individual's name was entered alphabetically into two registration books. When elections were held, the election judges were required to allow only those ward residents listed in the volumes vote.
A state law passed in 1882 modified previous registration laws by calling for two sets of registry books for each Baltimore election precinct. A preliminary set was to list names and other personal information relating to all persons applying for voting priviledges; those who failed to meet specified requirements were noted as such in the books along with the reasons why. Final registration volumes were to contain only the names and addresses of voters duly qualified by the officers of registration for use by the election judges during elections. Voter registration in Baltimore is currently conducted in a similar fashion except a single board of registration is appointed for the entire city by the Supervisors of Elections.
Additional information concerning elections can be obtained from secondary sources such as Thaddeus P. Thomas, The City Government of Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, 14th series (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1896); Jacob H. Hollander, The Financial History of Baltimore (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1899); and the Municipal Handbook 1977 (Baltimore: Department of Legislative Reference, 1977), p. 135. Relevant legislative citations include the 1797 city charter and Laws of Maryland, 1805, ch. 97; 1851, ch. 333; 1838, ch. 149; 1860, ch. 7; 1868, ch. 297; 1876, ch. 223; and 1882, ch. 22. Also see art. 4, 1860 Public General Laws of Maryland, and art. 33, 1978 Maryland Annotated Code.