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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Polling judges prove hard to find

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

(Photo)
Election judges Bea heisserer and Mary Daugherty assist a voter in Ward 1.
SIKESTON -- Many are repeats who volunteer their time working as a polling judge election after election, but as some county clerks are finding out, the number of the recognizable faces at the polls is starting to dwindle.

"This is not unique to Mississippi County, it's a nationwide problem," noted Mississippi County Clerk Junior DeLay.

After receiving a dozen or so cancellations from several of its polling judges, DeLay and other county employees only finished filling Mississippi County's polling judge positions Monday afternoon.

"It's very difficult to find the ones that are still doing it," DeLay admitted. "We had so many cancellations. We've been filtering in new ones who have never worked before and training them."

It is hard to find polling judges, agreed Scott County Clerk Rita Milam.

"Most of them have done it for years and years," Milam said. "Some elections, I don't have any trouble finding judges, and some I do."

Milam said she is grateful to the judges because they're really doing an act of service to their country.

"It's a community gesture because it isn't that well paid," Milam pointed out. "They're doing it because they believe in the system."

DeLay said one reason for the lack of judges is there aren't as many housewives anymore, DeLay said.

"There are so many working females now," DeLay said. "When you start drawing from a pool, it's mostly retired people who are judging -- but we're not gender-specific."

Another reason is a lot of them just don't want to do it, DeLay pointed out.

"When we got the optical scan ballot tabulator, there were no counting judges anymore," DeLay said. "It eliminated a lot of work and stress on the judges. We were kind of on cruise control until the ordeal in Florida.

"Now we have provisional balloting and the government is throwing more and more at the judges. It scares a lot of them off, particularly if you're a retired lady, and you start getting these legalities you have to abide to," DeLay explained.

But as people get older, it also becomes harder for them to work all day -- especially on Election Day.

"It's a long, long day for them -- and some of them, if they have to, will work until 8 or 9 at night," Milam pointed out.

A typical day for a polling judge begins with setting up the polling place around 5:30 a.m. with the county providing judges with all of their supplies and ballots at each precinct, DeLay explained.

Once the polls open, judges are checking IDs, having voters sign in and issuing them ballots, DeLay said. Judges are making sure votes are placed in the ballot box properly, and once polls close, judges account for their ballots, he said.

Training sessions are held prior to every different type of election with each election consisting of certain rules. For example, the rules for the presidential primary today are different from the general municipal election in April, DeLay noted.

But Dana Shanks with the New Madrid County Clerk's office said it hasn't really been a problem getting polling judges to volunteer in New Madrid County.

Lou Stellato is one of the polling judges working in New Madrid County today. She's over at Market Place, or the Big Prairie Four precinct, on the south end of Sikeston.

"Right now, I've noticed that most of the judges have been here for years and years," said Stellato, a retired employee of New Madrid County. "But pretty soon there'll be a big retirement of the ones that have been doing it, and then they will have to have meetings to teach the new ones."

Stellato said working as a polling judge is enjoyable, but it's also a lot of work.

"A lot of people say, 'This job is easy. They just sit there and ask names.' But it's a long job and you have to know how to handle things," Stellato noted.

It's also an interesting job, Stellato said. And often times judges can witness first hand the power of voting.

"Anybody interested in knowing how the community is run should take the opportunity to vote because a lot of times, it takes only one vote to win," Stellato said. "I just hope everybody gets out and votes," she paused, "because a lot of places don't have that."