An Election Judge’s Survival Guide

Being an election judge is rewarding, hard at times, and a tiresome labor for the public’s good. As an election judge you help facilitate democracy at the polling place. You are the guardian of the polling place’s decorum and you are the temporary custodian of the ballots until they are taken to the counting location.


I have now done this twice, and I can say that it is a fine thing once you learn the job. You need to be organized, prepared, and willing to learn as you go. The pithy training class you had will only cover the bare bones, and like anything you’ve got to learn it by doing it. Let’s discuss the organization aspect first.




Organization: You and your colleagues will have a lot of stuff. Numerous signs, tape to affix the signs, a tablet to register voters, a computer to assist with that, and other pieces of equipment, most importantly you’ll have the ballots. The machines are likely already in place the night before, sometimes you will set those up yourself. Regardless, of this follow the instructions.


You’ll have a table to put the affadavits and ballots on and this is where you will be sitting, another table should be your registration table, and this should be behind you. If possible have a third table, and this should be your supply dump table. All bags which carried the supplies in should be open at this table and in your plain view for when you will need to perform your tear down operations.

The tear down operations are the most hectic and stressful part of your day as an election judge. If you are organized these operations will be smooth. If you are not organized, you and your colleagues will be screaming at each other and you don’t want that. As facilitators of democracy you need to be on one winning team and that is an organized one. Minimize risk, minimize challenges, and have a successful and less stressed day as an election judge.



Mental & Material Preparation: Regardless of the type of election that you will be working, you are going to have a long day. Expect to work twelve to fifteen hours, possibly more. You’ll be getting up early. Last election, I had my clothes laid out the night before. I woke up at 4:30 a.m., showered, ate a little snack, quaffed some coffee, and I was out the door at 4:50 a.m. to arrive at the polling place not far from me at 4:55 a.m., you’ll have to know how far it is from you to plan ahead and allow for your driving time.




As I said you are going to have a long day, have plenty of dollars deposited in the sleep bank, odds are you’ll not sleep much the night before. Drink lots of water throughout the day to keep yourself hydrated and alert. Dress accordingly. Our weather in Illinois has been fickle lately and I made the mistake of wearing short sleeves. I kept my coat on most of the day due to this error, however we were in a well-heated building so this was a mitigated problem and not a world ender.

You are going to get hungry. If you can pack a lunch, pack a dinner. I have been fortunate with both elections to enjoy delivered meals by members of my family. Nothing fancy and nothing messy. Simple sandwiches from Dunkin Donuts and Panera’s. Avoid anything messy as you don’t want to clean up a mess and it looks bad to spill something near equipment or ballots that is not yours, but the people’s. In my case the county government’s.


If you are fortunate to be with a good group of colleagues enjoy their conversation and their camraderie. I had the good fortune to be paired with two good judges: a republican and a democrat: both in their 70s. They are good conversationalists and they kept the day more tolerable as our turnout was pitiful during this year’s election. They also are seasoned judges and they helped me learn this job more than the training did.

Learn All You Can As You Go: You’ll learn that a spoilt ballot is an unpleasant reality. You will come to know that electronic voting machines are poorly built, designed, and realized and that they’re oftentimes ignored. They’re owner should have built a better mousetrap instead of wasted time and energy on a machine that doesn’t seem to be regarded well or trusted by the voters. You’ll know that not everyone can darken the oval within the lines. You’ll deal with electioneering. Most people can be silenced by simply a firm warning. However, some may need to be ejected by the police.


If you don’t know an answer to a question defer to a more experienced judge. However, learn as much as you can from them, and should they pass or quit it will be up to you to continue this. We all need to have equity in democracy and this is a sweat equity: your service as an election judge.

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), "Freedom of Speech," 1943


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