August 9, 2012 at 8:26 a.m.

Election judges prepare for primary voting; learn procedures they need to follow

Election judges prepare for primary voting; learn procedures they need to follow
Election judges prepare for primary voting; learn procedures they need to follow

Chisago County residents who will be 18 or older Aug. 14 will have plenty of reasons to visit their voting precincts that day for the state primary election. All county voters will find contested races for U.S. Senate in on all tickets; and the county’s DFL voters must make a choice among three candidates running for the party’s slot in the 8th District race.

Republican voters in the city of Shafer, part of Shafer Township and all of Franconia Township will find primary candidates for the Minnesota Senate. Doors open at 7 a.m. for the citizens who wish to vote before a day of work or play; but other residents will have arrived long before. Election judges, your neighbors and friends, begin preparations for ensuring all eligible voters in the precinct may have access and privacy to vote long before the polls open. As election judges, these citizens have one duty exclusive to the primary election – making sure voters do not mark their ballots for candidates from more than one party. If a voter should fill in one oval for a Republican U.S. Senate candidate and an oval for a DFL U.S. Senate candidate, they will have spoiled that ballot for all partisan races. Those voters do not necessarily have to exit the polling location as they have an option to take a replacement ballot back to a voting booth. Each person in Chisago County who will serve as an election judge this August (or November) either learned or re-learned that rule, and many other procedures which are critical to voting and elections in Minnesota.

County Auditor Dennis Freed. He provided 11 two-hour sessions this season at the Chisago County Government Center and the North Branch Area Library to instruct local election judges. By state statute, each election judge must go through the training either within 60 days prior to the primary or three days before the general election. The judges are appointed by councils and township supervisors. An election judge receives a small wage for both the training and subsequent work at the polls, paid by their precinct’s city or township, but a judge is essentially volunteering to preserve the greatest right that all eligible American adults can share. Election judges must be eligible voters themselves, and fluent in English. An election judge is prohibited from serving in a precinct where they are related to a candidate listed on a ballot. Spouses or any other set of two relatives can work as election judges in one precinct, but only during separate shifts.

Freed gave a comprehensive review of all information that the election judges must know during one session last week at the Government Center. Among the notable details, the new and returning judges learned that ballots will be delivered to their precincts in wrapped stacks of 100. They must count the ballots in each stack, and open a new stack only when they are reasonably sure at least some of those ballots will be needed. Designated judges at each precinct get lists of the names of citizens who have voted by absentee ballot, to ensure those persons are not allowed to vote at the polls on primary day. Freed explained that persons may enter the polls even without voting, including interpreters, children of voters and persons who are assisting disabled voters. Other persons may enter the polls to vouch for eligible neighbors who have not pre-registered – a person may vouch for up to 15 other voters in one day. Working media, though they must not interfere with citizens in the process of voting, may remain in polling locations for unlimited time.

Campaign signs or flyers are not allowed within 100 feet of polling sites (excluding private property) and election judges must ensure no one in the precinct is visibly wearing a campaign shirt, button or other such apparel or accessory. All election judges assigned to a shift are balanced among the major parties based on how they marked affiliations on their applications. When two judges must carry out a certain task, such as counting ballots, the partisan balance is maintained. Important to honoring the American voting process, election judges must ensure the nation’s flag is shown at the polling place. “If the flag’s not displayed,” Freed told a room of judges last week, “you don’t get paid for those hours.” The class included Joyce Meyers, who has served as an election judge for more than 25 years in Sunrise Township. She did take a break for a few years in the mid-90s after she attended cosmetology school at age 50, she said, and worked at a shop in North Branch. She moved away from styling hair after suffering a herniated disc, but is back working seven to 10 days a month in North Branch. She is also the head election judge in her Sunrise precinct, and has been for more than 10 years. Meyers and other judges are also at the precinct every March, as Sunrise follows a rotating schedule for electing its five town supervisors and there is at least one supervisor elected each year.

There were about 500 voters in the precinct when Meyers first served as an election judge, she said, and there are 1,200 now. There used to be three judges working at the site, and now there will be five at the primary and maybe seven or eight for the general election. Meyers said she will deeply miss Janice Logger, who worked Sunrise elections as recently as March 2011, but died early last winter. The judges will set up seven voting booths, including four that have been in Sunrise as long as Meyers has been working at the polls. “These things are antique, but no one wants to get rid of them,” she said. She notices that citizens seem to take more pride in voting as they get older. Regardless of whether Minnesotans pass or reject the Voter ID amendment this fall, Meyers said many seniors in Sunrise will continue showing their IDs at the registration table. “They come in with their driver’s license in hand,” she said. “They will show it to you without even being asked.” A growing challenge in precinct management has been to prevent the partisan language and fighting that happens outside of the polls from penetrating the hallowed doors.

“There are some judges we have had to dismiss because their points of view were being voiced and overheard,” Meyers said. Freed has been training election judges for 34 years as county auditor. His other duties, apart from election season, include managing accounts payable, accounts receivable and property tax administration. He agreed that partisanship has changed the culture throughout the season. Voters on both sides of the spectrum have grown cynical, he said. “I used to really like elections. I still do,” Freed told the County Press outside of one of the training sessions. “It’s just the cynicism, all of the negativity.”


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