Democracy Starts Here: City Needs More Poll Judges

City Clerk Lance Beachem and Jeanne Aske, a longtime volunteer election judge, are looking for more than a dozen more people to work at Moorhead’s polling places on Nov. 6. They’ll be introduced to Clay County’s voting technology at training sessions on Oct. 11 and 15. (Photo/Nancy Hanson)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson
hansonnanc@gmail.com

The city of Moorhead is looking for a few more good men and women to serve their country … as poll judges for the election coming up on Nov. 6.
“When the founding fathers formed our nation, they deliberately started with three words: ‘We the people,’” says City Clerk Lance Beachem, who’s been reaching out to organizations and schools ever since the primary in August. “That’s us. Working at the polls is where it all begins.”
If citizen participation is the foundation of America’s democracy, he says, the volunteers who run Moorhead’s polling places are its essential first step. For 15 hours on election day, they check voters’ qualifications, hand out ballots, help newbies negotiate the voting machines and tabulate the results.
“It’s such a rewarding experience,” Jeanne Aske asserts after more than 15 years as a poll judge. “I love it!”
Moorhead is looking to staff its 15 precincts. Each requires eight or nine judges. Lance says the city’s roster is still short 12 to 15 volunteers for next month’s election, most of them needed to stand by as alternates.
While procedures are much the same as in the past, Clay County has upgraded its voting technology with new ballot machines and, this year, a move away from the big printed books of registered voters that poll workers have checked, and voters signed, in days gone by. Instead, a streamlined digital system was introduced in August. Workers check each voter’s data on iPads, using the tablets to register newcomers before distributing ballots.
The volunteers move voters smoothly through the process, starting with making sure they’re at the right precinct. (This year, changes in the map have made that especially crucial.) Next, those manning the poll pads check eligibility and print out receipts to be signed by the voters. They give them yellow tags, which are traded down the line for actual ballots.
On to the voting booth, where another judge stands by to answer any questions and guide first-timers in the mechanics of casting their vote. They also help those with visual or hearing impairments use special machines designed for their needs.
After completing their ballots, voters take them to the ballot machine, where they’re sucked into a slot and automatically counted; the paper ballots are stored within the machine.
That’s where you’ll find Jeanne, who serves as one of two head judges at her precinct. “I like to be the one who hands out the prizes,” she smiles – the iconic “I Voted” stickers that voters sport as they walk out the door. “Many people bring their children,” she says. “They love the stickers.” She’s put them on babies in their parents’ arms – even on the occasional dog.
After the polls close, each precinct’s pair of head judges accompanies the data to the Clay County Courthouse, where totals are tabulated. It comes in three forms: on digital jump drives, on endless rolls of tape like grocery receipts, and in sealed boxes of paper ballots to be preserved in case of recounts.
Poll judges receive compensation set by the city – in Moorhead, $9.50. They must complete a two-hour training session that addresses both the age-old voting process and the new-age equipment. Two are scheduled in coming days, the first at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11; the other at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15. Both take place at the courthouse.
How many voters do they anticipate next month? “That’s hard to say,” says Lance, who has worked Minnesota elections for more than 20 years. “Pre-voting (at the courthouse during business hours weekdays) will have some effect.” Nevertheless, voting is expected to be brisk.
Are you interested in volunteering to be a judge? Contact Lance Beachem at the city clerk’s office on the third floor of City Hall – (218) 299-5304 or lance.beachem@cityofmoorhead.com. More information is available online at cityofmoorhead.com/government/elections#ElectionJudges

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