I am writing in response to a number of articles that have appeared in various newspapers critical of the election judges on election day, March 21. I was one of the four judges at precinct 66, Oak Park Township. Three precincts, 66, 64, and 56 shared the large gym space at the Oak Park Senior Center, 500 S. Maple Ave., attached to Oak Park Hospital.

All four judges working at Precinct 66 were women, ranging in age from 61 to 77. The fifth judge failed to show up. Two were the technical judges. They had served as judges for many years and had received additional technical training prior to the election. We all had college educations and some computer experience.

I agree that the system is in crisis. The Cook County Clerk and the director of elections, being responsible for administering the electoral process, must provide more training, improve on the procedures and technology, and select appropriate voting locations. Most judges are dedicated citizens who spend up to 16-18 hours working on election day. They do not do this for the money.

The other judges and I attended a training session on the new procedures and technology in late January. Prior to the training session, we received a draft (incomplete) manual on the new voting machines and procedures. We did not receive the final manual until a few days prior to the election. The training session was crowded and individuals had little chance to see, let alone use, the new equipment. An excellent video was shown but we were given no opportunity to view it again.

One of the technical judges made two trips to the Oak Park Center on March 17 and 20 to ensure that the site was ready for election day. On the 17th, she noted the lack of heat in the gym and the lack of rectangular tables. On the 20th, she stayed until the tables were carried into the gym and was assured that the heat would be turned on.

At 4:30 a.m. on March 21, the two technical judges arrived to set up the computers, but still no heat. The other judge and I arrived at 5:15 a.m. to begin our long and arduous day. The polls opened at 6 a.m., still no heat. We were unable to reach anyone by calling the various emergency numbers in the Election Judge Manual.

Finally a hospital employee arrived and informed us the entire heating system in the gym/pool part of the building had been removed because the building is scheduled to be torn down!

At 8:30 a.m. three large space heaters were set up. Twelve hours later, well after the polls closed, the gym space was finally warm enough for the judges to take off coats and gloves. Voters, as they came in, immediately asked why it was so cold.

Despite a few minor problems, all our technical equipment worked well while the polls were open. Oak Park Hospital sent in hot coffee and later hot soup to warm all the judges. Precinct 66 had 7 voting booths, plus the touch screen. The voters’ chief question on the paper ballot had to do with the election of judges. The ballot was inconsistent; for some races it specified the number to vote for, but for others it did not. The optical scanner rejected the ballots when a voter voted for too many judges. However, usually when the voter was given the choice to make changes or leave the ballot as is, the voter opted for as is, thus negating their vote for that race. Those who selected the touch screen were able to vote more quickly and generally had no problems with this technology.

With the closing of the polls at 7 p.m., we carefully followed the instructions in shutting down the optical reader and packing up the equipment. A key piece of equipment is the Activator. It activates a card for the touch screen voting equipment and at the end it reads and consolidates the results from the touch-screen machines and the memory packs from the optical scanners. The Activator transmits the results to election headquarters. Because our location was the voting site for three precincts, all three precincts shared the designated transmitter.

We all felt a sense of relief when we began to transmit the first of the 18 result tapes for our three precincts. Then the disbelief! The first tape took 40 minutes to transmit. Since all judges were to remain until all tapes/results were transmitted, I thought there was going to be a riot of judges.

Finally election headquarters informed us that all precincts were having problems transmitting and that only one tape for each precinct should be transmitted and all ballots and memory packs should be placed in the ballot bag and taken to the receiving station. I finally arrived home at 9:15 p.m., completing a 16-hour day.

In all the many directives, procedures and forms put out by the Cook County Clerk and Director of Elections, not one evaluation sheet was included. Because of this the judges at Precinct 66 began to document the experience to ensure that change may occur.

Our suggestions include:

1) Training videos should be available through local libraries so that judges could review procedures.

2) Use computer technology for online training to augment the group training.

3) Have new equipment available at key central sites to allow judges to actually touch, use, become familiar with, before election day.

4) Make certain election sites are usable and do not assume that sites used in the past are still usable.

5) Make certain that evaluation forms are completed the day of training and on election-day and that suggestions are taken seriously.

Change must occur. If not, in the future we will have fewer, rather than more, qualified election judges. The judges at Precinct 66 worked well as a team. We respected one another. We welcomed the voters, apologized for our lack of expertise, asked for their patience. But until changes are made in training, procedures used and in selecting locations for voting sites, I would not recommend anyone becoming an election judge.

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