November 2, 2010: A day in the life of an election judge

By Cassie M. Chew
Special to

It’s 4 a.m. on November 2 and my day is starting now. The polling place where I’ll be serving as a Spanish-speaking election judge is only about a half mile up the road, but I’m up getting ready for the 15-hour day that I’ll be spending with the 11 colleagues with whom I will be manning the polling place at Piney Branch Elementary in Takoma Park.

The kids are out of school for the day but, last night at our mandatory Monday night meeting I found out we have one brave high school student who will trade a day of skateboarding or playing video games to see the nation’s electoral process at work.

The job of an election judge actually starts weeks before Election Day with a four-hour training class that the Montgomery County Board of Elections requires for each person serving as a judge at the county’s 243 polling sites. At the training we learn the specifics duties of our assignment and are required to take an oath promising to adhere to policies that promote a fair electoral process for all voters.

Last night on Election Eve, we met our colleagues for the day as we transformed the school’s auditorium into a polling site. We set up the check-in table and made sure the electronic poll books, which we use to check to see if a voter is assigned to our polling place, were operating and that the plastic cards on which we load each voters electronic ballot were functioning properly.

We positioned the 10 Diebold touch screen voting machines to ensure privacy for each voter. We also set up a table for people whose aren’t assigned to our polling place or who aren’t listed in the poll books to vote by a paper provisional ballot. And we set up a voting booth for those who arrive by wheelchair. Last night we posted our inside information signs and this morning we will post signs outside.

As we set up the polling site, Jeff, one of our two chief judges for the day, was happy to see that all 10 people assigned to the polling place have shown up for duty instead of half that number they had in September for the primary. He tells us that on primary election day, this polling place had consistent traffic throughout the day. So that tells me that we will see the same or better traffic today.

My tenure as an election judge in Maryland goes back to 2006 when I moved to Silver Spring. Besides the small $150 stipend for the day, serving as an election judge gives me a chance to see the people in my community come together for a common goal, despite their political leanings. During the half dozen or so elections I’ve served, I’ve noticed that people are very respectful of the process and of each other. I’ve yet to come across an angry voter—even when lines are long.

At the meeting last night we also discussed how we are all going to make it through the 15-hour day in which we can’t leave the building, read a newspaper or walk around the polling site with cell phones or other digital devices.

It’s a quarter to five now and I’m off to prepare my lunch. But I won’t have to worry about dessert. Last night Jeff said that his wife was at home baking an apple pie.

Cassie M. Chew is a multimedia journalist who is serving as an election judge today.

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