As of Thursday, 349 local residents had voted early at the Monroe County Courthouse ahead of the March 17 primary and another 179 had voted by mail.
But those voters did not encounter some of the people crucial to the democratic process on election day.
“I feel honored to be an election judge,” Sherry Cates told the Republic-Times. “You meet all kinds of people and you see all kinds of people. It’s just a feel-good feeling that you can do this for your country and your county and help out.”
Election judges have responsibilities that include ensuring the electoral process happens fairly, properly and legally, administering election procedures, maintaining order in the polling place and upholding the Constitution.
These volunteers, who are paid for their time, must meet basic qualifications like being a citizen and being skilled in basic math.
They then undergo training to perform their duties.
Cates, a Columbia resident who has served as an election judge for 10 years, volunteers because she was curious about how elections work and her grandfather advocated for everyone voting.
“It was inbred in me that you do your duty and vote,” Cates said. “It’s your duty, it’s your right and it’s an honor. As soon as I turned 18, I registered to vote. I can remember it vividly.”
Susanne Garleb, who started volunteering in 2016, had similar reasoning for deciding to help.
“I just think everybody should vote,” she said. “I like the democratic process, and I think everybody should take advantage of that.”
Cates and Garleb said a typical day for an election judge starts early when the volunteers arrive at their designated polling place.
The volunteers then prepare the polling place, which involves counting ballots, getting voting lists ready, starting the machines, swearing in the other judges and signing an affidavit that they will perform their jobs.
Once all that is done, it is typically time for people to come and vote.
The next several hours are a matter of going through the normal process of making sure each person is registered to vote, answering any questions and directing them to the appropriate precinct.
If someone is not registered, the judges simply tell them how to register that day.
Additionally, judges balance the numbers every 30 minutes to make sure the ballots cast match the number of people who have voted.
“It’s a consistent flow of people coming in,” Cates noted.
That work continues until the evening when the election judges to announce the polls are closing, close out the machines, extract the ballots and separate and count them.
This double-checking occurs to ensure nothing went awry.
“It’s just a balance sheet to make sure everything is accurate,” Cates said. “All judges sign at the end of the day to make sure everything is accurate.”
Once that is done, a Republican and a Democrat judge box everything up and take it back to the courthouse.
The day for the election judges usually ends about 9 p.m.
“It’s a long day, but it’s an easy day,” said Garleb, who lives in Columbia.
If there are any issues throughout the day, the judges can solve simple ones like someone coming to the wrong precinct. More complicated problems require a quick phone call to the courthouse, but those are rare.
In addition to helping the democratic process, Garleb and Cates said they enjoy meeting voters when they volunteer.
“I like to see all the different people who come in,” Garleb said. “I like seeing all your friends and neighbors.”
Cates said she enjoys that too, and she also likes working with the team of five election judges to help everything run smoothly.
“I want to do the job 110 percent,” she said. “I want to make sure anyone who walks through that door has all their questions answered.”
Both women also encouraged others to assist on election day if possible, noting the compensation and service involved.
“It’s interesting and fun,” Cates said.
Visit monroecountyil.gov to learn more about becoming an election judge.
Those wanting to vote early who cannot do so on a weekday, can vote this Saturday at the courthouse from 9 a.m. to noon.
On Tuesday, the polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
To find out your polling place, call 939-8681, ext. 304, or visit monroecountyil.gov.