Should I continue as an election judge?
November 8, 2007 10:48 AM   Subscribe

How much civic duty is enough? Should I keep going as an election judge?

I have been both a Democratic and Republican election judge in my county for the past ten years. I initially became one during a period between jobs, for the money, and to address a shortage of judges. In the last election cycle I was Democratic Chief Judge for my precinct. I have been active in politics since 18, when I was first eligible to vote. I have voted in every election since. I intend to continue to vote, but a recent letter for my county Elections Board inquiring if I still want to be an election judge has me considering that question more seriously than I had anticipated.

For those of you who have not been an election judge before, allow me to summarize: It's a 16 to 20 hour day, you usually cannot leave the poll the entire day. You are paid, but not terribly much. You do get to meet all your neighbors. You will be expected to be able to resolve any complaints immediately, and without fear or favor to any party. You will face all sorts of problems that will not be covered in the judge's manual. (Not even the Chief Judge's!) By the end of the day you will be exhausted, regardless of how energetic you are, and that's when you have to be at your most mentallly alert to certify the vote count.

I should confess that one of the reasons I stayed an election judge was the passage of HAVA, because I am a life-long computer geek. Most election judges in my county (and I suspect this may be true nationwide) are older folk. Most of them are not very computer-facile, in fact most of them don't own one themselves. My county now uses the Diebold AccuVoteTS machines, and the Diebold electronic pollbooks. I cannot count the number of times in the last election cycle I was called on to reboot the latter, and I happen to agree with Avi Rubin's assessment of the current state of electronic voting.

I am looking forward to this coming cycle knowing it will be one of the most tumultuous in recent memory. In the last cycle, we lost judges right and left just prior to the elections. I had to scramble to fill my slots in the days immediately before with my friends and my wife, all of whom cheerfully and willingly volunteered. They still will, which leaves me feeling just a touch of guilt for thinking about bailing. I submit to you all: Should I stay or should I go?
posted by Fferret to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should do what makes you happy. I have a couple of thoughts that would influence my decision if I were in your shoes.

If you quit, could you help train your replacement? How about lobbying for better electronic vote training or writing some training material? Your friends and family's participation should not influence your decision -- if your quitting bothers them, they're volunteering for the wrong reason.

On preview, I agree with The World Famous' sentiment. It sounds like you're a good guy and it'll be the county's loss if you leave. Thanks for the work you've done.
posted by empyrean at 11:29 AM on November 8, 2007

You've given a lot of reasons why you want to do it, but only one reason for why you don't. Lots of people have hobbies that are physically and mentally challenging, so it being a tough day isn't really enough to disqualify it on its own. Are the challenges greater than the satisfaction? It's hard for someone else to judge reading your question because you don't really say how you feel about it.

If it were me writing the question I'd have said "I get to meet all my neighbors, which as an introvert I find exceptionally draining. It's a 16-20 hour day which wipes me out for a month. I'm expected to resolve complaints immediately without fear or favor, which I don't find particularly difficult. I know more about computers than most of the volunteers, which makes me feel particularly helpless when I don't know how to fix it..." etc. And people would look at that and say "Gee, happyturtle, this probably isn't for you."

So can you follow up with a bit more about how you feel about the job, so we can advise you better?
posted by happyturtle at 11:37 AM on November 8, 2007

Response by poster: happyturtle: When I wrote the question, I was careful to keep my personal feelings out of it. I suspect that if I followed them, I would have been gone years ago. How do I feel? It's an enormous amount of work done during a really long day. I suspect even extroverts would get tired. You have good and bad aspects, emotionally and otherwise. I do not want to make this decision based on my feelings for the job.
posted by Fferret at 11:56 AM on November 8, 2007

This is a tough call to make. It's always hard to choose between ideals and personal well-being. Just remember that for most people personal well-being is necessary to live up to one's ideals. If you think that you're not up for the job anymore then you definitely shouldn't do it. However, it's hard to know. My advice is for you to write a letter (pen and paper) stating that you don't want to serve as an election judge anymore. Seal it in an envelope, put a stamp on it. When you're done try and take stock of whether you want to send it or not. Maybe even walk with it to the nearest mailbox. Feelings are hard to take stock of until there's something concrete to latch on to.
posted by Kattullus at 12:32 PM on November 8, 2007

um, I'm curious: where are you an election judge? maryland? It's kind of wierd that they have a position titled 'chief judge'. I've been a judge for quite a few years in multiple juristictions, and the closest thing we have to that is something called 'technical judge', who is responsible for making sure the equipment works.

it sounds like you're not only responsible for your own work, but you also have to recruit other judges. Since you're a democrat, you should be leaning on the party to help you with that, as opposed to testing the good will of your friends and family. your diebold machines also sound like they're programmed badly. I've been through two elections with 'em, and have yet to even reboot once.

yeah, the day is long, the work mindless and dull, your coworkers can be crappy and you have to do the most work after the polls close ... but I love it. i love being part of the whole process, and I love using my skills and experience to help people vote.

if you look at an upcoming election and dread it, then quit. But if you like anything about it ther then the free food, keep it up.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 12:34 PM on November 8, 2007


Do it.
posted by rtha at 2:07 PM on November 8, 2007

You should do it even if your feelings about the day itself aren't positive. You clearly believe in the necessity of the job being done. If not you, who?

I'm a big believe in people doing what makes them happy, but I think it's easy to overlook the things that make you happy which require you to be unhappy to accomplish them. This seems to be one of those things. Additionally, we all have a responsibility to make the world the place we want to live in. You've been fortunate enough to find one of those things that helps you accomplish that goal. Keep with it.
posted by phearlez at 2:08 PM on November 8, 2007

Best answer: I've worked as an election judge in Baltimore City. Good lord, you sound about a billion times more thoughtful and intelligent than the chief judge I worked under. I'm not sure what's par for the course in your area, but what you might consider to be doing a half-assed job is likely far better than the way she conducts things every year. If it will make it easier on you, try to relax a little about your obligations to "resolve any complaints immediately, and without fear or favor to any party." I'm not saying that you shouldn't do that, just try to chill out and realize that the alternatives to you-as-chief-judge might be a lot worse.

If I were you, I would do it unless it's so stressful that it takes you a lot longer than, say, a shower and a good night's sleep to recover.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:21 PM on November 8, 2007

Response by poster: lester's sock puppet said: "um, I'm curious: where are you an election judge? maryland? It's kind of wierd that they have a position titled 'chief judge'."

For your amusement: Baltimore County's Judge Org Chart, in Order Of Authority

Chief Judge: One for each major party. All decisions and audit requirements to be handled by both judges.

Assistant Chief Judge (aka, The Provisional Judge): Aside from the obvious, this person also handles all provisional ballots and processing.

Book Judge: They run the electronic pollbooks, registering voters and issuing ballots. They sit all day, pretty much.

Machine judges: They direct voters to open machines, help manage traffic and collect used ballots to be returned to the book judges. (Our ballots are on smartcards, written by the pollbooks.)
posted by Fferret at 4:03 AM on November 9, 2007

Response by poster: needs more cowbell said: "If I were you, I would do it unless it's so stressful that it takes you a lot longer than, say, a shower and a good night's sleep to recover."

Sadly, it usually requires all of the next day flat on my back and good analgesics to recover. That's one of the real downsides, I cannot stand for really long periods of time, and by the end of the day I am spending as much time in a chair as I possibly can. Even after losing a good deal of weight, I cannot stand for long periods.
posted by Fferret at 4:15 AM on November 9, 2007

You have served fairly and faithfully for 10 years. Take a break. If you decide after the next election that you miss your job, I'm sure the powers-that-be would love to have someone with your experience back in charge.
posted by wabashbdw at 6:52 AM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Fferret, your personal feelings *do* matter. There are far more things in the world that are worth doing than any of us will ever be able to do. It sounds like you have earned your retirement from this particular duty.
posted by happyturtle at 4:33 PM on November 9, 2007

Best answer: And for those of you still watching, here's the definitive answer: yes. I put my Chief Judge's Oath in the mail yesterday. Thanks for your comments. As to my motivations? I'm planning on raiding my daughter's school for seniors to act as judges this year (Carver Center in Towson. There's probably a few Republicans. Somewhere. They're more computer-savvy, and used to coping with interfaces at speed. That being said, I can sit at a table with the best of them if I have to. End of day processing is a task requiring a good deal of knowledge of how the collection and uploading process works. I know how to do it, and as the last couple of my opposition judges have only lasted one year, I'm the one with the legacy knowledge. I'll call the Board next week to see who my oppo is this year, and start trying to organize a meeting. Fortunately, Maryland has not fallen to this state-jumping foolishness, so we are not rushed into it. (Jan 3.? Ye ghods and little fishes!) They need me, and I need to teach this to the folks who are coming after. I wish all of you good luck in the upcoming election cycle, and may the best human win!
posted by Fferret at 4:48 AM on December 9, 2007

Response by poster: lester's sock puppet: Free Food?!?!? AHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! You made a funny! No, we bring all our own food. It's a good thing we get access to the teacher's lounge in the school, there's a fridge in there.
posted by Fferret at 5:02 AM on December 9, 2007

Response by poster: I do buy coffee and doughnuts, though. It's seems only fair. I wind up drinking caffeinated soda all day.
posted by Fferret at 5:05 AM on December 9, 2007

well, there fferret, i just scheduled my training to be a technical judge for the feb 5th primary. here in chicagoland, it's customary for the precinct captain(s) to bring by all kinds of treats. last election, we got donuts, coffee and pizza. i will admit that i have been stiffed a few times, but usually someone produces something worth eating.

congrats on reupping your judgeship. we need more people like us to keep things running smoothly.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 2:16 PM on December 28, 2007

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