Editor’s note: Richard Cahan spent Election Day photographing and listening to some of the people who dedicated their time and talents to ensure the process was smooth, the count was accurate and our fundamental democratic right of voting was ensured. The RoundTable thanks not only those in this story, but all who worked as an Election Judge. For complete coverage of who won and lost, read here. For a story on voter turnout, read here.

At a time when Election Judges in parts of the country have been falsely accused of tampering with ballots, citizens still step up to make sure votes are cast and counted. We visited five polling places on Election Day and spoke to five Election Judges. These are edited excerpts of our conversations.

Alexandra Ware-Reed
Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center

Alexandra Ware-Reed at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. Credit: Richard Cahan

“I’m here making sure that my community is able to vote fairly. Typically there are no Black people serving in the Fifth Ward on Election Day. I thought that it was really important for representation purposes. The Fifth Ward has historically been Black, and I think it’s really important for community members older and younger to see folks that look like them working the election, taking an interest in politics, whether it’s local or national.

“Elections like this one are especially important because we’re voting for judges, folks that have a direct impact on our lives. We may be going before the judge for a myriad of reasons. And really knowing who we’re getting into office, who might advocate for us, who might have policies that work for or against our community is really important.

“I also speak Spanish. So if a voter feels more comfortable and feels more empowered coming in seeing a familiar face or a friendly face, having someone to help out with completing ballots and providing honest, genuine support. Yes, I hope I am making a difference.

“The best part of the job is connecting with my community members, connecting with folks I’ve known my whole entire life, connecting with their aunts and their grandparents.”

Joy Joyce
Evanston Ecology Center

Joy Joyce at the Evanston Ecology Center. Credit: Richard Cahan

“I started doing this after I retired from being a social studies teacher for many years. At that time, I lived in a western suburb. And when I moved to Evanston about six years ago, I decided to continue.

“I would like people to know that it’s a good thing to do. There are more judges needed. I have been able to essentially learn how to be part of a team, follow directions, ask good questions, interact with people. I feel like this role is part of implementing the democratic process as it’s executed here in Illinois.

“The early hours are the bad part. You can err in two ways: oversleep or wake up too early. Unfortunately, I woke up too early. I’m embarrassed to say I woke up at 2:47 a.m.

“We’re changing some equipment. I like the new E-pollbooks [electronic poll book that helps confirm the authenticity of signatures] that we have today. One of the things I really like about it is that the screen rotates so you can face it to the voter who can then confirm information. And even in terms of recording signatures, it seems like there’s a fair amount of transparency there.

“Tampering? Please come and be an Election Judge here in this precinct and have a team of people to work with. Notice how many times either all of us or at least two people have to sign off on things. It makes me feel that there would have to be an intent to misrepresent something by a group of people because you never take an action by yourself.”

Elizabeth Hubbard
Hillside Free Methodist Church

Elizabeth Hubbard at Hillside Free Methodist Church with fellow judges Ellen Van Bolhuis (center) and Amanda Bridges in the background. Credit: Richard Cahan

“I’ve always wanted to do it. My mom was an Election Judge my whole life. And I finally am an empty nester with kids in college. I had the flexibility to give my time. It is my first time. I like it; I wish it were busier. But it’s kind of a good way to learn. I’m sure it will be busier in November.

“We had to do an online training class, which was interesting and felt a little overwhelming. And then you go into a training class in person, which cleared up some of the stuff that was overwhelming online but also gave us more questions. There’s a lot more to learn. What to do if someone needs a provisional ballot. That’s very different than just the regular voter. There are all sorts of different ways things can be resolved.

“I didn’t realize kind of how much information we were going to be trusted with. And the equipment is sensitive and expensive and important. We don’t just come in and open the books.

“There’s been certainly no politicking here, which is one of the things we learned about in our training. You will not even be allowed to wear a T-shirt that says anything. I would say that it’s disturbing to think that people would try to influence anyone, no matter what your politics are. I think Election Judges are really important. Personally I think coming to your neighborhood precinct and voting in person feels patriotic in a good way. So being an election judge is a part of that.”

Shantia Aikens
School District 65 offices

Shantia Aikens at School District 65 offices. Credit: Richard Cahan

“I believe in democracy and actually participating in it. This is my way of doing it besides voting. I enjoy watching people come in voting and doing their part to ensure that our democracy continues.

“We start really early. We stay late. We are here to make sure that all eligible voters are able to vote. We’re not here to stop anyone from voting. We’re not here to try to sway anyone in voting. Our goal is to ensure that this process continues and at the end every vote that we’ve received is delivered and counted. That’s all.

“This is a way of giving back to our democracy in a way.  I’m not a politician. I don’t want to be. But this is my way of ensuring that our democracy continues.

“I think training should be more than just before the election. I think it should be every six months for all judges. That would keep us fresh and keep us updated on technologies. So when it is Election Day, we’re fresh and we know what we’re doing. We’re more confident in the systems and in ourselves.

“I believe our democracy is being threatened. We have individuals who look at the voters in this area and say that some of them should not vote, either because of their race, their religion or their sex. And that’s wrong. Everyone who is an American should participate in our government. It is not the government of a rich. It is not the government of the strong. It’s the government of the American people as enshrined in both the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution.”

André Calloway
Washington School

André Calloway at Washington School. Credit: Richard Cahan

“The political atmosphere is very tense at the moment. I really believe that my generation needs to get a little bit more involved than we have been. I’m in my mid-30s now, so I’ve been voting for about almost 20 years. I think it’s our time to step up and do our part.

“As an individual I feel like I’ve done something important because this is my first time doing this. So I’m stepping out of my own comfort zone and trying something new. I’m surprised at just how long the day’s been going. I knew it was going to be a long day. We’re in the final stretch Just getting here super early was the hardest part for me. I woke up at 4 a.m. and I was here at 5 a.m. on the dot.

“The voters come in all shapes and sizes, regardless of party. I really appreciate the way everyone conducts themselves. It’s really eye-opening. Just people coming to do their civic duty regardless of party. Everyone is courteous and respectful. No tension at all.

“I’ve learned just how much easier they’ve made the voting process in the past 15 years, since I’ve started voting. The process is much more streamlined. It’s easier for elders to come in, vote and get in and out. There’s not much confusion for them. And they’ve actually thanked us for the process being so easy. We can’t take credit for that. I mean, the technology is really what is making it easier for us. But us being able to guide people through the process is gratifying.

“I don’t feel like democracy is threatened. I feel like it’s being challenged. And people just have to be willing to step up to the challenge.”

Richard Cahan takes photos for the Evanston RoundTable. He also is publisher of CityFiles Press, a small but mighty media company that believes in the power of words and pictures. You can reach him at...

3 replies on “On the front line of democracy: Election Judges”

  1. Many thanks to ALL the election judges- heros and sheros .
    They are the backbone of the integrity of our democracy.👍🏼👍🏽👍🏿👍

  2. It is unfortunate that you were unable to feature any Republican election judges in your story. All of those pictured seem to be wearing Democrat election judge badges. Or are there no Republican election judges left in Evanston?

    1. Dear Sir, You are so right and I have to say honestly, as I just asked him, Richard did not notice who was with what party. He went into each poll and asked for people who would be willing to talk with him as he was profiling people who gave of their time and energy for our democracy. But I understand that while this answer is honest, in this time where we have been acclimated to be suspect of polarized party-driven actions, it might ring hollow to you. I think you are right if you are saying this does not look good. And we will be cognizant of that in the future. I can only say, I signed off on all of this and having served as an election judge, the party affiliation is important only when it comes to signing off on sealed envelopes, ruined envelopes, ballots submitted etc. (The law requires that two judges, one affiliated with each party, sign all the paperwork during the day as well as the opening and closing of the polls.) Otherwise, the playing field is equalized in that judges are united in preventing electioneering and helping each voter to the best of their ability regardless of party. I was a Republican judge. Moving forward, we will remember your comment in our coverage — even if we come at it from a place of neutrality, we must be very careful about the appearance as well. It is how we build trust.

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