Judging Elections

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I worked as an election judge for the first time Tuesday, and the experience opened my eyes to many issues with our current system.

First of all, election judges get minimal training and are both overworked and underpaid. We judges showed up at the polling place by 5 am and were not able to leave until after 8 pm. There was scarcely any opportunity to use the restroom or grab a bite to eat.

As the polls opened, our epollbooks, which are used to look up voters’ information, were not working. We were scrambling to post voter applications and get voters into the booths to vote before they headed to work for the day. Not having actually ever performed the task, I was uncertain exactly what to do and sometimes which form to use. This despite the fact that I had attended training and had studiously read the entire election judges manual for a couple of days before the election.

There is no boss at a polling place in Illinois. All judges have equal weight in seeing to it that voting takes place in the proper manner. But this can create confusion. One of our judges insisted upon asking people for IDs even after I told her it was not allowed in Illinois. It took a couple of poll watchers and someone from the election commission who came to our precinct to set the judge straight.

Inevitably there were issues with voters. Some had moved but not changed their address. Others were at the wrong polling place. Some voters had become inactive after not voting for a few years. Even with the opportunity to hand out provisional ballots, it took me the better part of the day to learn how to follow the proper protocols for all of these special situations and make sure everyone had the opportunity to vote.

Our election system needs an overhaul. It should be much easier and less complex to vote. In Washington State, for instance, all voting is done by mail or drop off. There is no scrambling to get to a polling place or need to stand in a long line to vote. There is no need to recruit citizens to sacrifice a long and exhausting day at the polls. Unsurprisingly, voter turnout in the state was over 50%.

Don’t get me wrong. My day as an election judge was not all bad. I enjoyed meeting my fellow judges, who hailed from all different walks of life and were eager to do their part to participate in democracy. I loved seeing the great turnout at the polling place to which I was assigned. It heartened me to see so many citizens, many of them young people, determined to cast their vote.

I would love to see Illinois and other states work to make voting more streamlined and ultimately less costly than the wieldy system we currently have. Short of that, election judges need to be paid better and required to receive more training and supervision before being allowed to work at a polling place. They should also not be required to work an entire 15- hour shift on Election Day.

Voting is one of our most cherished rights and responsibilities as Americans. Let’s make it easier to participate and encourage citizens to vote in every election. It will make our democracy more vibrant and representative of all the people.

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