Column: Election judges make sure the system clicks – Chicago Tribune

Election returns from last week’s voting made it clear Americans can thank election judges for the fact there were few major hiccups on Nov. 8. The volunteer judges also battled back those who would spread conspiracy theories about stolen elections.

Election judges across the U.S. are part of the government machinery that makes democracy work every election cycle. They need to be recognized for a job they did actually quite well on Election Day — at least in Illinois.

With election judges on duty, Americans didn’t have to worry about vote-rigging or chicanery at the ballot box. Or the future of democracy, where voting is the bedrock of our political system.

Indeed, according to an Associated Press survey of more than 94,000 U.S. voters, 44% said the future of democracy was their primary consideration for casting ballots Nov. 8. Even President Joe Biden said after the midterm elections, the nation’s core principles had endured.

Biden noted: “There were a lot of concerns about whether democracy would meet the test. And it did!” Election judges made sure that happened.

Of course, election judges get paid. Yet after a day usually of more than 12 hours, it’s below minimum wage.

On Election Day in Lake County, election judges arrived at their assigned voting sites no later than 5:15 a.m. and remained there until their closing tasks were completed well after the polls closed at 7 p.m. For that long day they earn from $165 to $205, depending on their training and which job they were assigned by county clerk employees.

They aren’t in it for the money. They’re in it to make sure elections run smoothly and with integrity.

If you voted Nov. 8, election judges were those in your polling places directing voters to ballots, checking voters’ names, addresses and signatures. Working under the auspices of the county clerk’s office, they dispense ballots and are arbiters of any voting disagreements.

There were check-in judges, ballot-issue judges, ballot-box judges, early voting judges, nursing home judges, voter services judges. To hold an election, hundreds of election judges are needed to man the precincts.

Requirements to be an election judge in Illinois are pretty simple. Among them is being a registered voter. Also, be prepared to put up with hours of boredom.

Once, election judges were your friends and aging neighbors. As more judges are needed, election officials have turned to students who are allowed to be election judges if they are high school juniors or seniors with at least a 3.0 grade point and have parental permission.

Election judges need to take a free basic training class and skills assessment through the county clerk’s office, which makes them certified to serve on Election Day. Specialty training also is required for additional duties, which may mean more pay.

A recent retiree, a former Libertyville and Lindenhurst resident, volunteered to be an election judge Nov. 8 and proclaimed it “an impactful experience.” Why so?

“The fellow election judges I had the honor to serve with,” she said. “I was inspired by their genuine passion and care each of these individuals brought with them. We clicked as a team.”

She found that “no matter how contentious an election may become, everyone still has the right to vote and that right to vote was well respected regardless of one’s political affiliation. I learned that people still care about one another and the election process still works.”

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The first-time election judge also was surprised by, “the respect each voter had throughout the day, and their genuine thankfulness for our work as election judges so they could cast their votes.” She also had an epiphany.

“Just when I was beginning to think bipartisanship was a thing of the past, this election was a great reminder that neighbors could come together and make things happen,” she said. “I am looking forward to my next election as a judge.”

While baseless viral conspiracy theories and Election Day-rumors spread across U.S. social media platforms, Illinois election judges were in action, on the front line of democracy and ensuring votes were counted in a fair and prompt manner.

Their yeoman duties will be required again in the February 2023 primary elections, and the statewide spring municipal elections. Holding elections is one of the requirements of a democratic people. Election judges make sure the system works.

Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor.

Twitter: @sellenews

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November 14, 2022 at 06:16PM

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