“I’ll be the judge of that!” Student election judges on the 2022 midterm elections

By Bridget Galibois, Junior Editor-in-Chief

Student election judges during the 2022 midterm elections helped run their local polling places. Electronic voting cards (on the clipboard) enabled voters to vote via touchscreen computer, and the electronic poll book (right) was used to sign voters in and issue ballots.

As voters across Chicago cast ballots during the 2022 midterm elections on Nov. 8, thousands of high school juniors and seniors throughout the city served as election judges. These students assisted voters through the ballot application, registration, and submission processes. Student judges were able to gain a new perspective on the democratic process of voting, which Patrick Conlon ‘23 described as “fulfilling.”

A first time election judge, Conlon enjoyed “seeing all of my neighbors come into the precinct and being able to help them cast their ballot.” The location he served in processed over 300 ballots throughout the day, and registered many new voters.

Ian Mann ‘24 agreed, adding that the “major thing which was helpful was that there were other, experienced judges who could aid in making decisions, especially relative to the primary. There was pretty much a constant flow of people throughout the day, so there was always something to do, although it did get to be very crowded and busy at times.”

Chicago has 50 wards, each with different precincts. During this year’s midterm elections, voters were only able to vote during the precinct that they lived in. However, due to the 2020 census, precincts were redistributed and reallocated. This led to large amounts of voter confusion, and election judges were called upon to redirect voters to their specific precincts or to early voting sites within their wards.

“We had to tell them, ‘sorry this isn’t your location, you can’t vote here’ or we could give them a provisional ballot. Some people had to go to other locations and got a bit frustrated,” said Julianna Mokaya ‘24. “I feel bad for people who had to go to a further location.”

Although there was a high voter turnout throughout Chicago, student judges found redirection of voters to their correct polling locations to be common throughout election day. Conlon said that despite the fact that “many [voters] had been voting there for years and live next door,” precinct changes created additional challenges for election judges, who needed to ensure that voters were in their correct precinct to vote. If voters were in the incorrect precinct, they would vote instead on a provisional ballot, which only included national elections.

“However, we were able to redirect people to their new precincts, including the address of the polling place, with the materials we had with us, which allowed us to get around any issues we faced,” added Mann.

Polling stations are often local park district buildings, libraries, and schools.

Nationally, voter turnout also reached high levels. According to FiveThirtyEight, nearly 47% of eligible voters cast a ballot in this year’s midterm elections, similar to 49% of voters in 2018’s midterm elections. Both of these elections show a significant jump in voter participation, as only 36% of eligible voters voted in the 2014 midterm elections. This can be attributed to hot button issues in the current political climate, such as abortion access and the economy. Mann estimated that his precinct registered approximately 50 new voters on election day, and Mokaya had over 480 voters in her precinct. Although polling places could get crowded at times, she said that she had “a really good crew of people who were there helping me out, [so she] didn’t feel overwhelmed.”

Mann, who had served as an election judge previously in the primary election in June, added that “in the general election, more judges had signed up, which allowed the Board of Election to give most precincts enough judges. Without more people willing to volunteer, it’s going to remain a big problem for voting in Chicago.”

“Overall, it was very interesting seeing and meeting all of the different facets of the election process, including election judges, voters, poll watchers, candidates, and pamphlet distributors,” said Conlon. Students will have the opportunity to serve as election judges in the February mayoral elections, which fall on a school day.

Although they may be too young to vote, student election judges are able to gain greater understanding of political systems, as student election judging allows them entry into political participation. “I got to help a lot of people vote, so that made me feel like I was helping facilitate democracy, even though I can’t vote yet,” said Mokaya.

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