I voted in my first presidential election in November 2012 after finally becoming a naturalized citizen in 2010. I think I started as an election judge in 2017. Where I live we get paid $10/hr, but I think I read somewhere we now get $12/hr. (My Dear Reader, you must know that no one is doing it for the pay. It’s a 16-hour day that starts at 5 am. This year that meant I got to see the start of the blood moon lunar eclipse, which felt oddly fitting.) It is both a privilege and an honor to serve as an election judge. I have the ability and privilege to take the day off, finding subs to teach my two yoga classes this year, and a reliable car to get to and from the polling place before and after voters come through. It also allows me to participate in “the vote” in a way the Founding Fathers never codified for women or for naturalized citizens and a privilege I can’t assume is protected.
Two years ago when the former president of the United States amped up the rhetoric around voting, I experienced the result of that rhetoric – comments from voters about whether or not their votes counted, questions about the voting machines, voters incorrectly assuming the ballot had their name printed on the ballot, etc., and I posted a few thoughts on my FB page.
As we await the final results of a few key elections across the country, I thought I’d pull those posts together and add in italics a few more thoughts.
June 30, 2022
Voters, learn about the rules governing elections. Illinois voters do not need to show ID at the time of voting because IDs are checked at registration. When you come to vote your signature is checked BY TWO PEOPLE. And then you are given a ballot, which is checked by TWO PEOPLE to make sure you got the correct ballot. (Illinois is an open primary so you can vote for either major party regardless of your personal affiliation. Those are the rules.) We are not checking your name and what party you are voting for. We are making sure you get the correct ballot because each site covers several precincts and different ballots.
The voter’s name is not on the ballot. There is no way for anyone to know how an individual person voted.
Ballots arrive at polling sites in sealed boxes. Each sealed box contains ballots specific to the precinct, and the ballots also come in sealed packets. Election judges are instructed to open packets as needed. All ballots – cast and uncast ballots are returned to the boxes and resealed before being taken back to the county clerk’s office.
The fun part? After the polls close, election judges have to account for every ballot. There is a record of the number of ballots issued, spoiled (voter makes a mistake), and cast. Again, there is no way to connect a paper ballot with a specific voter.
Nov. 5, 2020
Last week local county election judges were asked to come in to help process mail-in ballots. This year (2022) election judges were asked again to help process mail-in ballots but I was unable to make it work with my schedule.
Only official election judges can verify signatures. There were 10 computers and not always 10 of us to process ballots. We also were asked about party affiliation because the county clerk office wants to make sure it’s a mix in the room.
Some voters have a signature history from the DMV, etc., others do not. Rejecting a signature required three of us and our signatures on the physical envelope (there is no signature or name of the voter on the actual ballot, and at this part of the process we do not see the ballot). During a four-hour shift I could go through anywhere from 1,200-2.400ish ballots depending on how easily I could match signatures, etc. Out of a batch of about 1,200 ballots a judge on an unofficial average rejected 3 ballots, some of them because of a missing signature on the envelope.
None of the election judges I worked with over four days wanted to reject ballots. Sometimes it took longer because three of us, wearing masks, would hover around a single computer TRYING to find similarities between signatures so that the ballot cast could be counted because we all believed that if someone took the time to register, request, fill out, and return a ballot it was due the respect and time.
Those ballots didn’t get to us until the outer envelope was opened, scanned, organized by date, location of drop-off and receiving. After signatures are verified, ballots had to go have that envelope opened, ballots stacked and THEN counted.
Add the global pandemic, an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots in many places, a postal service that had its own share of shenanigans.
It takes a long time, people. Be patient.
And besides, someone with power keeps telling his followers to count ballots in one place and stop counting in another place. I’m sure people are confused.
Nov. 6, 2020
Today more local county election judges helped process mail-in ballots. We are “volunteers” meaning we are not county employees. Rumor is that we are being paid $10/hr taxable. As a naturalized U.S. citizen who paid to go through the process my kids and spouse were born into, handling ballots is a privilege and sacred work.
Many of us were hoping ballot counts would be finalized, but most of us HAVE NO IDEA HOW TEDIOUS this process can be. Yesterday I wrote about the signature match process. Today I saw part of what happens next….
After the signature on the envelope, not the ballot, is approved by an election judge, the envelope has to be opened, the ballot physically removed, checked for valid write-in candidates (and tallied if such write-in is cast), initialed, and then stacked by batch for eventual counting.
The envelopes come in a batch, the same batch of envelopes when signatures are matched. Those envelopes were scanned together so that YOUR MAIL-IN BALLOT CAN BE TRACKED.
I went through two trays of ballots, I think less than 1,000. One of those trays required me to open each ballot. One tray had already been opened perhaps by a machine, an employee, or a paid volunteer who isn’t an election judge. Why by hand? A machine may tear through the ballot. What happens if a ballot is accidentally torn? It has to be re-cast by two judges manually. I saw one of those ballots, and it really made me sad.
I also had several military ballots, which also meant that batch had to be put aside so that the ballot could be re-cast on an actual ballot that could be scanned by a machine. That requires two people to fill out a ballot.
On election day we did not see a single poll watcher ALL DAY LONG. NONE.
Today there were more than a dozen poll watchers representing both parties. I was told that it was unusual. Thankfully I was working at a separate table that could be observed and was observed, but further away from a larger set of tables where at one point there were only 3 or 4 volunteers and more poll watchers.
Sidenote: I wore a t-shirt that read “He’s a racist. Me-2017” A county employee received a complaint about my t-shirt because it was too political, so I was asked to figure out a way to hide the words. I went to the restroom to turn my shirt inside out. I didn’t raise a stink because I truly went to help get legally cast ballots processed and counted. Again, I consider this sacred work. I don’t care who you voted for. If you went through the process of registering to vote, requesting a mail-in ballot, filling out said ballot, mailing or dropping off the ballot, your ballot should be processed and eventually counted. I took an oath to do that.