As in the entire country, the coronavirus pandemic has forced Monroe County to adjust its Election Day plans in ways that have or may cause headaches.
That includes plans for election judges, a group of volunteers often made up of older residents more susceptible to COVID-19 who help run polling places.
“We’ve had judges drop out because they either have concerns or they live with someone who has COVID health concerns,” Monroe County Clerk Jonathan McLean said. “But we’ve also had a lot of people calling saying they understand that we’re going to have trouble with judges this year.”
McLean said those callers are often younger individuals who express interest in serving as a poll worker on Nov. 3.
“Our pool of judges who are younger and healthy is growing,” McLean said. “We also have a lot of judges who are older who haven’t dropped out. They’ve called the office and said they’re going to be there.”
McLean also noted that judges younger than retirement age have dropped out and that some people have said they simply want to serve as a reserve judge.
An election judge has a variety of responsibilities on Election Day, including deciding what to do if a voter is challenged, ensuring correct ballots are distributed and completing ample clerical work and math to make sure voting runs smoothly.
“The election judge takes an oath of office and is an officer of the court,” McLean said. “It’s their job to run the election at their precinct. It’s very important.”
Although the county has a fair number of volunteers, it still plans to operate with a smaller crew than usual.
Normally, there are five election judges per precinct, but with health concerns and a projected decrease of in-person voting as Illinois encourages residents to vote by mail, McLean said there will be just three judges per precinct.
There will also be two reserve judges per precinct in case anyone drops out.
Although McLean’s worries about election judges are relatively low, he is preparing for more people to potentially drop out as the election nears.
The county clerk’s office usually has its judges selected by the end of August, but McLean said he may put out another call for judges in October if needed.
To become an election judge, simply call the county clerk’s office at 939-8681, ext. 306. It maintains a list of candidates. Volunteers who meet the requirements must complete training, which will be conducted virtually, and receive $200 for working on Election Day and $25 for training.
An election judge must be a registered voter, a U.S. citizen and at least 18. New this year, students can also serve as a poll worker provided they are a junior or senior in high school with a GPA of 3.0 or higher and the permission of their parents and principal.
“We need election judges in order to ensure that we have fair and honest elections here in Monroe County. They’re the guardians of our election process, and we need to continue to get new people coming forward who are honest and have good character,” McLean said before noting that poll workers are needed to ensure in-person voting can happen.
In addition to their normal responsibilities, 2020 election judges will be tasked with making polling places as safe as possible.
There will be hand sanitizer at each location, volunteers will clean pens and voting booths regularly and signage will be on display telling people not to enter the building if they have COVID-19 symptoms.
Each polling place will also have masks for everyone.
The county is further working to get face shields for all election judges and attempting to purchase a fogging machine.
If someone still has concerns about the virus but wants to vote in-person, McLean offered another solution.
“Anyone who’s concerned about a polling place being unsafe on Election Day, I highly suggest they consider voting early or voting by mail,” he recommended.