With less than three weeks until Election Day, our TVs, mobile screens and U.S. mailboxes have been bombarded with advertising messages from political candidates and the organizations who support them.
And if it isn’t an ad telling you how spectacular or horrible a certain candidate is, you’ve probably seen the neutral messages that simply tell you to vote – whether it’s early in person at your county clerk’s office, through the U.S. mail, or at your local polling place on Nov. 8.
Let me provide you with one more election-related message – if not for this election, then the next one: Sign up to be an election judge.
The number of judges needed to run an election is a bit staggering. Here in Sangamon County, we have 180 voting precincts. With five judges per precinct, that’s 900 judges. Add in workers handling same-day voter registration at each polling place, serving as backup judges, troubleshooting problems at the polls, setting up and tearing down polling place equipment, and counting the votes, that’s a lot of personnel.
During my days as a journalist, I was always busy covering Election Day. In my current role at UIS – and due to the odd middle-of-summer timing of this year’s primary election – I actually had time to take on a poll worker gig. So after a two-hour training course, I was assigned to Trinity Lutheran Church in Auburn to be a judge in the Auburn 2 precinct.
It’s a long day. You arrive by 5 a.m., staff the polling place from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., complete the poll-closing tasks and maybe even help transport the ballots and other paperwork to the election office in Springfield that night.
The pay works out to be near minimum wage – about $200 for the day.
You’re definitely worn out by the end of the shift, but it’s a rewarding feeling to know you facilitated an important duty of being an American citizen.
I’ll be back at Auburn 2 on Nov. 8 because, in a case of good timing, UIS (and the rest of state government in Illinois) now observes General Election Day as a state holiday. The added holiday came as part of a series of election-related changes signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker last year. If you’re a member of the UIS community, work in another area of state government, or just someone able to take the day off, I’d encourage you sign up as an election judge.
Stacey Kern, director of elections in Sangamon County, said the county is in “good shape” with election judge coverage on Nov. 8. But there’s always a need for extra backup judges to fill in for last-minute cancellations.
For more information, you can call the election office at (217) 753-8683. An online application to become a poll worker is at https://countyclerk.sangamonil.gov/ElectionJudgeApplication.aspx. Note that you will have to declare yourself a Republican or Democrat to be a judge. Judges from both parties are assigned to each precinct.
Jason Piscia is an assistant professor and director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois Springfield. He came to UIS following a 21-year career at The State Journal-Register.