Election judge reflects on importance of voting

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Photo by Adam Monnette

An election polling site set up with dividers to ensure no one can watch ballots being filled in.

Adam Monnette, Live Media Manager

On April 6, 2021, thousands of people, including myself, woke up at 4:00 in the morning to make final preparations for over fifty million Americans, helping to set up our polling locations so people could go and vote.

Other than volunteering or working in the military, being an election judge is one of the only ways that students are able to have service and either help others, or the whole country. Being able to understand how the election process works as an insider helps make sure that people know all the steps involved in keeping an election secure and speedy. But not only is having knowledge of how an election works is important, it also showed me that voting in an election is extremely safe and secure.

Overall, we cannot forget about the importance of casting our ballot, whether it be in person or by mail, as voting for officials allows the common person to help choose which way our nation should head towards.

Day in the life of an election judge

After grabbing a 32 ounce thermos full of black coffee, I worked together with seven other judges to drag, place, pull, and tape signs, tables, and information cards throughout the voting space to ensure that the experience for voters would be comfortable before the crowd walked in at 6:00 in the morning.

My specific job was to verify a voter’s information by making sure their address, name, and signature match what the computer tells me it should be. After I gave the voter directions to the next station, I cleared my throat, put on a fake smile behind my mask, and in an enthusiastic voice, I say, “I can take the next person over here!”. And then the cycle repeats. For the next 13 hours.

Once the last person in the line has cast their ballot at 7 in the evening, the smell and sight of paper particle dust starts to settle, as all of the judges work together to deconstruct our stations, with some occasional words under the breath when a cup of pens flies across the room, or when a count is lost for the seventh time.

Once all the stations are cleaned up, we open the machine that counted the ballots and hand count them according to what area the ballot is representing, called a precinct. If the count does not match up to what the machine says we should have, then we recount and look in parts of the machine to find any missing ballots. No one can leave until the ballot is found.

After both counts match, we all sigh in relief, grab our now cold and empty bottles, jackets, car keys, and spittle-drenched masks, and walk out to our car, knowing that we were able to help over three-hundred people vote as they intended, and help keep the election safe.

Security of voting

For every voter, the process and the respect that is given to all voters is the same, no matter if their political affiliation. When I checked people in, or gave them their ballot, we don’t ask what their political party is, and all judges must stand far enough away from the voter to make sure that we cannot see who they voted for. The only exception is if there is user error when inserting the ballot, in which we must ask permission to see or touch the ballot.

Due to the pandemic, there was an increase in the number of mail-in ballots that were sent across the country. In Lake County, over 126,000 mail in ballots were sent to residents, according to the Lake County Clerk’s Office. While signature and address checks are not possible due to the voter not being in the building, mail-in ballots have the same, if not more security then voting in person.

The weekend after election day, I went and opened envelopes filled with voter ballots. In order for me to open them, I had to declare my political leaning, and sit at a table with the opposite party, just to open the envelope and pull the ballot out. After a sizeable stack of ballots has been opened and checked for clear voter intent, we bring the ballots down to be fed into a machine that counts the votes.

Throughout this process, the only people who can actually touch the ballots are election judges, or the person who actually cast the ballot if they were in person. Poll Watchers and other people, by law, are not able to touch the ballots because it would interfere with making sure the election is fair and as secure as possible.

Go out and vote

    For every election, this is when we can use our voice to choose people who think will either represent us well, or help improve the country. It does not take a lot of time, and the more people vote, the country ensures that it goes in the way more citizens want.

   So next time an election day rolls around, make sure to go out and cast a ballot. If you are unable to vote in person, request a mail-in ballot. This is one of the few ways that people have a say in the government and its policies. Not all governments have a system in which people can choose their officials, and we need to use that power to help propel the country forward.