Heightened interest in the November 2 presidential election among young people will likely result in a record number of teen election judges, Cook County Clerk David Orr said.
The First Judge program allows high school seniors, some of whom may not yet be old enough to vote, to serve as election judges — and get paid for it. The teens work alongside other election judges opening the polling places, assisting voters, explaining proper voting procedures and counting votes after the polls close.
The Clerk’s office has received more than 625 applications from high school seniors interested in serving as election judges. Almost 600 students worked as judges in the 2002 gubernatorial election.
Since the program’s debut in 1999, teachers have begun promoting First Judge as a way to provide teens with a hands-on educational experience that instills a lasting interest in the democratic process, Orr said.
“Election Day becomes its own classroom for these students,” Orr said. “We want to create a culture of civic involvement that improves voter participation as these students get older.”
A study conducted by the Clerk’s office after the March 2004 primary election showed the lowest participation among young voters, averaging only 13 percent in age groups between 18 and 29.
The Clerk’s office believes participation in the First Judge program will have an augmenting effect on the voter participation figures in years to come.
In addition to the First Judge program, the Clerk’s office has established two other student programs designed to get young adults involved: the First Election program, which allows students to cast demonstrator ballots for candidates vying for national and state offices; and the First Voter program, which trains 18-year-olds as deputy registrars so they can sign up their friends and family to vote.