Champaign, Vermilion counties seek election judges
DANVILLE — Help wanted: Seeking community-service-minded part-time workers for 12-hour shifts up to three days a year at $100 a day to fill 600 to 1,000 election-judge positions across Vermilion and Champaign counties.
Must be responsible, customer-service oriented and able to do basic math and possibly contribute to or enjoy potlucks.
It's a job most voters probably don't give much thought when casting their ballots, but election judges are a vital link in the election process.
And recruiting people with the will, or time, to spend a long day at a polling place, ensuring the process is done correctly, can be a challenge.
"It's one of those things you have to do constantly," said Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten about recruiting the 350 to 600 election judges he needs for each election, depending whether it's a primary or general election.
Lynn Foster has been Vermilion County clerk for more than 20 years. She said it's getting more difficult to recruit the 300 judges she needs each election, so her office is trying some new ways to fill the ranks.
Hulten said the challenge in Champaign County is not necessarily recruiting the overall number of judges but getting the "right" people in the "right" polling places.
Each site needs a certain number of Democratic and Republican judges, which can be difficult finding both in certain areas, because many judges want to work at their own polling place, Hulten said. If they're flexible and willing to work anywhere, he said it makes it much easier.
Part of the reason Janet Brown, 72, of Sidell has continued to serve as an election judge since Richard Nixon ran for president is to reunite with familiar faces who also serve as judges and with those voting.
"It's kind of a nice time to see people you don't normally see," she said.
In her early years serving, Brown said, judges spent the day before doing a lot of cooking so they would have something to eat throughout the day. But now, Sidell has a restaurant across the street from the polling place, and the owner sends a waitress over to get their orders.
"I enjoy it. It's a job that someone has to do," said Brown, who was a stay-at-home mom when she first started as a judge in her mid-20s.
Both counties have judges, like Brown, who have served for decades, but they're a minority.
Foster said there aren't as many stay-at-home moms, and it's difficult to find people who don't work or don't have other commitments that keep them from giving up an entire day from early morning until after the polls close at night.
So Foster's planning to reach out to local employers to persuade them to allow employees to use a personal day to serve as an election judge. She said her office is close to sending out information to that effect to mid-size and large employers that may be able to afford being without some workers for a day. Hulten said his office has used that approach in Champaign County and has had limited success.
Hulten said he's targeted the University of Illinois, school districts and larger employers, telling them that this is a community service and asking them to allow employees the time off, even without using their personal time. He said some employers value community involvement by their employees.
"If Champaign County has well-run elections, that is a reflection of the community as a whole," said Hulten, who added that his office has had success recruiting high school students as judges.
Foster said her office hasn't had as much success getting high school students or Danville Area Community College students to participate, but that's another area she plans to renew recruiting efforts.
Hulten said high school social-studies teachers and advisers have been a great help in recruiting students. They may have as many as 70 students serving in a presidential election, he said. But only one high school student is allowed per polling place, and they cannot, by law, do certain tasks, so that resource must be used sparingly, he added.
Not only do the clerks need a large number of judges; they also need them well-trained.
Hulten said the election judges are the folks who, more than anyone else, control whether a voter has a good or bad experience on election day.
"And they all have to do everything flawlessly, because if they don't, one mistake can impact the integrity of an entire election," he said. "It's incredibly important."
New judges need to be trained and veteran judges need refresher training because something is always changing, according to Hulten and Foster.
Both are working to make online training available for judges by Jan. 1, ahead of next year's first election.
Foster is planning to make online training available for new and existing judges, and Hulten said his plan focuses on judges who need refreshing. Foster hopes that the online component can help recruiting by appealing to young people and also making it easier for busy adults to do the training from a home computer at their own pace rather than attending a class.
Rules and responsibilities
Election judges ensure that the electoral process is administered fairly and in accordance with election law. More specifically, they help ensure that every person qualified to vote is permitted to and that every person permitted to vote is a qualified voter.
Opening the polling place in the morning and closing it at night.
Setting up election equipment.
Providing assistance to voters.
Signing in voters.
Verifying voter qualifications.
Operating voting equipment.
Filling out forms to document polling-place activity.
Certifying vote totals.
Must be a U.S. citizen and resident of the county you want to serve.
Must be a registered voter.
Cannot be a candidate for any office in election or an election precinct committeeperson.
Polling places are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Judges should generally arrive before they open and stay after they close.
In Champaign County, judges who complete a training class before Election Day are paid $120; those who have not completed the class get $75. In Vermilion County, judges get $120, including $100 for working the election and $20 for completing a training session prior to it.