Poll workers should get time off

July 12, 2004
News Article
Statement from the Clerk

If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we get elections right?

As Cook County’s chief election authority, I hear that a lot. In reality, neither rocket scientists nor my staff runs the show on Election Day. The most powerful people on Election Day are the election judges – your neighbors who wake up at 4 a.m. and spend a 14-hour day inside a school gymnasium to ensure that your polling place runs smoothly.

In helping to guarantee democracy, polling place workers shouldn’t have to take a vacation day or worry about jeopardizing their jobs. Instead, businesses should allow employees to take the day off to serve as election judges – just as they do for employees who sit on juries.

Since the 2000 presidential election, most of the debate surrounding election reform has focused on voting equipment, while the human component of improving elections has largely been ignored. Sure, machines count votes and transmit results, but election judges must set up the equipment correctly, show voters how the machines work and know what to do if they malfunction.

Unfortunately, election authorities nationwide face shortages of election judges at a time when we need them most. The introduction of new federal voting procedures coupled with an expected heavy voter turnout makes it essential that every precinct have a full complement of five election judges for the November 2 election. That’s more than 25,000 election judges in Cook County alone.

Last spring, my office drafted a bill that would have required businesses to give time off to employees who work as election judges. It ultimately died after winning approval in the Illinois House. But civic-minded companies in Illinois can still support the spirit of the law on their own.

Deforest B. Soaries, Jr., chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, has called the decrease in polling place workers “an emerging crisis” that eclipses any technical issues. The commission is now urging corporate leaders nationwide to recruit more election judges by awarding employees the day off to work at the polls.

Granted, working as an election judge is hardly glamorous stuff. You work long hours and don’t get rich doing it. But election judges play a critical role by serving on the front lines and making sure elections are conducted fairly, honestly and accurately.

The more knowledgeable, well-trained judges we have on hand, the better. Granting them time off to protect voter rights, reduce polling place confusion and minimize ballot errors only makes sense.

David Orr
Cook County Clerk