Cook County residents take on volunteer work to coordinate local elections


Illustration by Gemma DeCetra

Election Judges are average citizens who sign up to work the polls each election to help people vote.

Shannon Tyler, Reporter

Wanting to get more civically involved during local elections, Sue Brenner, a member of the League of Women Voters of Evanston, started working as an election judge about 15 years ago. Since then, she’s returned to her post for almost every election – including the upcoming Illinois gubernatorial primaries in June. 

“I understood the importance of living in a country where you can vote,” Brenner said. “And (I) thought, this is something I could do.” 

According to Cook County Deputy Clerk of Communications Sally Daly, Election judges are volunteer citizens from across the county, who dedicate their time in their local precincts each election to ensure the voting process goes smoothly, correctly and safely.

Anyone who is a U.S. citizen and a registered voter in their county can apply to be an election judge, according to the Cook County Clerk’s Office. Election workers go through an online or in-person training process and earn a $200 stipend for their work. Duties include setting up the polling station equipment, helping check in or register voters and ensuring the voting process runs smoothly. 

“It’s a really important role that an average person can step (in to) fulfill their responsibility in our democracy,” Daly said. “They are assisting voters in casting their ballots and making their voices heard at the polling place.” 

While most election judges are older residents who have retired from the workforce, students — including high schoolers — can also apply. 

Eva Lettiere-Roberts, a senior at Evanston Township High School, decided to become an election judge in the 2020 election because she wanted to be as civically engaged as she could, even though she was too young to vote.

Lettiere-Roberts said the 2020 election was a source of distress for her and many others, so volunteering was her way of participating in a crucial election.

“I was still very anxious about whatever the outcome would be, but I was less anxious because I knew that I’d done something,” Lettiere-Roberts said. 

Over the past five years, Cook County has seen a decline in election workers. According to Daly, this reflects a nationwide trend. She said the public health consequences of the pandemic have also had a significant impact on polling places. Additionally, people are generally discouraged by the current political climate. 

This year, the Clerk’s Office still needs 1,500 more people to work the 12 Cook County polling sites. The office is particularly seeking bilingual residents, Daly said. 

Resident Jim Mann also started working as an election judge two years ago during the 2020 election because he heard there was a shortage of people willing to work the polls. Mann said he felt he had a democratic duty to fill. 

“It’s my way of helping to contribute to society and keeping democracy moving along,” Mann said.

The work, while at times monotonous, is a big responsibility, Lettiere-Roberts said. If election judges mess up one aspect of the process, she said it puts the whole system at risk or invalidates a ballot. To her, the work is not only rewarding for judges, but for everyone. 

Lettiere-Roberts and Brenner said election judges work collaboratively, creating a welcoming community for poll workers — and an incentive to continue working elections. 

Brenner, Mann and Lettiere-Roberts all plan on working the polls for the upcoming governor’s election on June 28. Lettiere-Roberts will even be able to vote this time around. 

“It’s really important that people continue to do these jobs so that people can continue to have access to voting because that’s one of the most important rights in our country,” Lettiere-Roberts said. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @shannonmtyler

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