Chicago Board of Elections plans to reinstate in person training for election judges. Until then, it’s 6 hours of virtual training videos.
When voters enter their polling place, they’ll find an orderly setup with workers ensuring that each ballot is properly cast. Many of those poll workers are election judges, who are ultimately responsible for safeguarding the voting process.
How are these election judges equipped for this responsibility? They’re trained.
Election judges rely exclusively on the training and material provided by the Chicago Board of Elections. After March 17, 2020, the last series of in-person training, it switched to a six-hour online session. Although both training modalities cover the same material, Max Bever, the Chicago Board of Elections director of public information, said election judges benefit from the hands-on instruction.
“It’s helpful for judges to not only be in person and be able to ask questions or express any thoughts or concerns, but also just get their hands on setting up the equipment and getting some in-person practice before they have to on election day,” he said.
Bever says in-person training is set to return for the February 2023 mayoral election, with the possibility of an online training option. He explains that in addition to COVID-19 precautions, the decision to stick to online training in the past is also related to budgeting.
“In-person training just costs a lot more than online training,” Bever said. “Even with the possibility of possibly doing hybrid [training] for this upcoming election, it just didn’t work out to be able to do that for November.”
In Cook County, the election judge position is open to eligible residents over the age of 16. If they are over 18, they also must be registered.
For the past three election cycles — the general election in November 2020, the primary election in June 2022 and the upcoming election on November 8, 2022 — election judge training was conducted virtually.
The June 2022 primary saw a drastic shortage of judges. However, Bever says that the Chicago Board of Elections has taken steps to resolve this.
Bever said there were just over 6,000 election judges working but over 10,000 were needed to staff the 2,069 precincts for the primary. Since then, the precincts have been consolidated. Now, just 6,450 election judges are needed to fully staff the polls.
Chicago needs poll workers more than ever – help us defend democracy and apply today to work the November 8, 2022 General Election! Election Judges make up to $230 and Election Coordinators make up to $450 for Election Day. Apply now at: https://t.co/S4V2PrFllI pic.twitter.com/pbs0LBQPcL
— Chicago Board of Elections (@ChicagoElection) August 22, 2022
We spoke with multiple election judges of varying experiences who all expressed an issue with the recent election judge shortages.
Caslean Cain-Montgomery has been an election judge for about 42 years. Montgomery notes that the lack of election judges comes from their reliability. Many are either standby judges, and therefore may not be trained, or they don’t show up.
“The only thing I have a problem with is for the last two elections. It’s supposed to be like eight judges where I’m at, and there’s only three of us,” Cain-Montgomery said. “It’d be people signing up for it, but they never show up … If [the Board of Elections] had a judge for a position, and they didn’t show up once or twice, they need to take them off the list and get new people.”
Prior to the election, the board appoints at least five election judges and one coordinator per precinct, with the potential for more judges in bigger locations. There are also specific positions for student and bilingual judges. These positions are required to complete training.
Additionally, there are standby judges and coordinators as well as substitute judges that are assigned in certain cases such as election day no-shows. These judges may receive training if they are assigned ahead of time, but according to Bever, they can be sworn in without going through the online training.
“It’s a warm body that can be trained on the spot by the election coordinator who’s present on site, a key judge or another judge, but someone that can at least be assigned to a precinct location to be directed and to be helpful,” he said.
Bever said that they relied heavily on standby judges during the June 28 primary. Election coordinators then acted as their instructors when they arrived at their precinct.
Bever says, “Wherever possible, obviously, we’re not trying to rely on the standby judge system or the emergency kind of staffing system and have every judge who applies ahead of time, be fully trained and feel comfortable and be ready to go.”
DePaul junior and political science major Aasiyah Bhaiji has been an election judge since 2018, before she was even of voting age. She recalls understaffing being an issue.
“With every profession post-pandemic, it is hard to convince people to work a job that takes a lot of commitment and learning,” Bhaiji said.
Election judges are paid $170 for serving on election day and $60 for completing the training which they receive after the fact. Judges that sign up for additional jobs, such as working as a key envelope judge or phone judge, are paid more.
Returning judges are reminded by the board when to retake the training and are paid $25 for the refresh.
Bhaiji recalls her experience becoming an election judge as a junior in high school as a relatively easy one — aside from receiving the sign-off from her school. All she had to do was register on the Cook County website, and it’s been a very simple process for her every cycle since then.
“Since I have been in the system for over four years, I just get email updates to update my availability for the next election,” Bhaiji said. “It’s nice because I don’t have to reregister for every election.”
Training, they added, was “long but necessary.”
For Tuesday, a projected 8,000 trained election judges will staff polls across the city. They’ve already completed their six hours of virtual training and will then be expected to work up to 14 hours at their post.
Along with the surplus of judges, the return of in-person training in February will be an additional help in preparing judges for their roles on election day.
“Being a judge has made me appreciate the patience and time it takes to be a servant to the public, even if it is for one or two days out of the year,” Bhaiji said.
Header Illustration by Maddy Smith