Faces of the election: The election judge
CHAMPAIGN -- By now, her co-workers know that Emily Brown won't be reporting to the office Tuesday at the University of Illinois.
The same goes for Nov. 4.
And Nov. 8, 2016, for that matter.
Every time there has been a primary or general election since 1988, Brown could be found working as an election judge at a voting precinct. She'll repeat the familiar routine Tuesday at the Bresnan Center, serving voters in Champaign's 35th Precinct from the time the first ballot is cast to beyond when the polls close.
"It is a big responsibility being part of the voting process, and I am glad to do my part," said Brown, 50, the scholarships and enrollment secretary for the UI's ROTC program.
When voters show up at her polling place, Brown finds their name on a laptop, notes whether they took part in a primary or general election, and designates what kind of ballot they received.
Brown became interested in serving as a judge when she took part in her first election as a voter while living in Danville.
"I saw the big spread of food they had laid out for the election workers," she said. "I decided I wanted to be a part of that.
"I later found out that they don't have a spread like that at every precinct, but that's how I first got interested in doing this job."
When Brown moved to Champaign, she researched how to become a judge, signed up and took the required three to four hours of training. She has been certified ever since.
The criteria haven't changed in her two-plus decades of service but the job has.
"When I first started, we had a book where you looked up each voter's registration information and wrote down that the person had voted," she said. "When the county turned to laptop computers in the last presidential election, we all had to undergo new training for that."
Election judges usually arrive at 5 a.m. to make sure everything is set up correctly before the voters start arriving at 6 a.m., Brown said.
It's a marathon shift that extends beyond 7 p.m., once the last vote is cast.
"We then clean up and prepare the ballots to be sent to the counting center in Urbana," she said. "One person from each political party actually accompanies the ballots to the center."
Not everything always runs smoothly.
One Election Day, the scanning machine that accepts the completed ballots broke down in her precinct. "We election judges had to do everything manually," she said.
On another occasion, a man who showed up at her precinct became so disruptive the judges had to call the police.
"That was one scary day," she said. "I was not very happy but the man later apologized to us."