Northsiders Take On Election Judging in March Primaries
by Kenny Larson
Leading up to the Nov. congressional and statewide elections, Illinois residents from across the state went to the polls on March 20 in the Illinois’ primary election. Running and coordinating these elections, however, is no easy task, and requires intense training and thousands of volunteers. Taking on this task, Northsiders, members of Mikva Challenge, and thousands of other students from across Chicago joined forces to become election judges at polling locations on election day.
As an election judge, students were responsible for preparing the polling location by interacting with voters and addressing any difficulties that may have arisen over the course of the day. As part of this process, all election judges were required to participate in a four-hour long training program led by the Chicago Board of Elections and Mikva Challenge. During the training course, students had the ability to practice with real election equipment, familiarize themselves with the election process, and ask any questions they might have. In addition, students learned how to interact with officials, including poll watchers, representatives from the Chicago Board of Elections, and any members of the press who were monitoring the polls. Oralia Quinones, Adv. 904, also noted that the training books were helpful when preparing for election day. “I trained myself by reading the book before election day,” said Quinones, “which was pretty helpful.”
Leading up to election day, students were advised to meet with the other individuals who would be working with them at their polling locations and complete several more hours of online review that covered the same content discussed during the training sessions. Finally, the day before the election, students and the other election officials met up at their polling place for the first time to check in supplies and deal with any last minute concerns before voting began.
Once March 20 arrived, election judges and officials arrived at their polling places at 5:00 a.m. to begin setting up. Because voters could arrive at their polling place as soon as 6:00 a.m., the election judges and coordinators had to work as fast as possible to ensure that the polling place was fully functional for any early voters. However, the the judges still experienced some difficulties during the process. Christian Sparks, Adv. 905, said that his election coordinator (the individual responsible for monitoring the polling place), never showed up, which forced the judges to fill in the gap.
After the morning shift, many of the polling places began to settle down, and oftentimes had long periods of relative inactivity when voters were likely working or too busy to vote. To pass the time, election judges were told to bring reading material. Given that only one of the judges was allowed to use their cellphone while in the polling place, this was an even more difficult task.
The election judges began shutting down the polling places at 7:00 P.M. Part of this process included reorganizing equipment, filling out dozens of forms, and sending the day’s results to Election Central, where the statewide and citywide results would be totaled for the final results. After the process, the judges had an opportunity to reflect on their experiences. “Being a student election judge gave me a firsthand glimpse into the inner workings of the U.S. political machine’s interaction with the people,” said Gus Kuhnen, Adv. 803, “as well as the multitude of systems and processes put in place to ensure a fair election.”
Any students interested in volunteering to be an election judge for the midterm elections in Nov. should contact the Northside Mikva Challenge and visit the website: chipollworker.com. Although the Chicago Board of Elections is not currently accepting applications to volunteer in Nov., applications are expected to be reopened closer to election day. “I really learned a lot about the political process, which I think is really valuable,” said Sparks. “Political involvement is pretty important to your future.”