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.

GO VOTE!

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Today’s the day. After what seems like eons of campaigning, Election Day is finally here. Along with the highly divisive presidential race, there are many congressional and senatorial seats, as well as local officials, to cast our ballots for. There are also local ballot initiatives in many areas, and the voice of voters will determine future tax rates, infrastructure projects, property values and the like. The weather is expected to be mild across most of the country, so there’s little excuse not to go cast your ballot.

Many Americans have already voted either by early voting or absentee ballot, including my own husband. But I like to vote on Election Day. There is just something patriotic about going to the ballot box with so many of my fellow Americans and sporting an “I voted today” sticker on my shirt or jacket.

Will this day bring us our first woman president or our first reality TV star as leader of the free world? Will Democrats capture enough Senate seats to shift the balance of power there? Many of us will be glued to our television sets tonight to find out.

No matter how you feel about the candidates in this election, it is so important to get out and vote. After a dispiriting campaign rife with scandal-mongering and name-calling, low voter turnout for a presidential election would further demoralize the American people. It is not just a right, but a duty, for citizens to take an active part in electing our leaders and, by so doing, affect the future of our country.

Let’s pack the polling places, my fellow citizens, and show the world how much we cherish  the democratic ideals of these United States.

The Democratic Process

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It’s election day for many cities and municipalities today. To be sure, there are no major offices for which to vote, such as president, Congress, or governor. Still, in the city of Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel faces a runoff election against opponent Chuy Garcia. And in my own humble suburb, we are voting for, among other offices, our local school boards.

Our high school board election has been the subject of much controversy and a great deal of effort on the part of many, myself included, to campaign for our slate of candidates. While I have always taken seriously my responsibility to vote, during this election I have played a much more active role and it has been very exciting.

Exercising one’s right to vote is not something to take lightly. Yet in many elections, a small minority of eligible voters decides the makeup of city councils, school boards, and other legislative bodies. Even in presidential elections, many people opt not to exercise this all important right.

I still remember seeing photographs of the first free elections in Iraq after the downfall of Saddam Hussein. Voters waited in long lines for hours and proudly displayed their ink-stained fingers for the cameras. I’m afraid that here in the U.S., we take this right for granted.

Today has been an inhospitable day to vote in the Chicago area. It is cold and blustery, and there’s not a ray of sunshine to be seen. Sure, it would be easier to stay inside one’s home or office than to brave the cold and go out and vote. But it is our civic duty  to do so.

After months of political ads, robocalls, and editorials about the candidates and the issues, we the people will be heard through the power of our vote. So if it’s election day for you and you have not yet voted, I urge you to go out and exercise that treasured right.

Otherwise, in the words of some sage, “If you don’t vote, you lose the right to complain.”