Even with increased pay, Cook County faces “critical shortage” of election judges


Seeger Gray/Daily Senior Staffer

The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. Although Cook County increased the pay for election judges by $50 this year, the county still faces a shortage of 1,000 judges.

Casey He, Assistant City Editor

After reading about a shortage of Cook County election judges in the Chicago Tribune, Wilmette resident Jim Mann signed up two days before the primary election in March 2020.

“I decided I should do this because it’s the democratic process, and it’s a civic-minded thing to do,” Mann said.

Mann said he was essentially trained on the job. The other judges at his polling place showed him how to sign in and assist voters and operate the voting machines day-of. Mann has returned to his post for every subsequent election. 

Three years later, however, Cook County is facing a “critical shortage” of election judges with the April 4 election day just around the corner, according to election administrators. Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough said the county is seeking an additional 1,000 judges during a public appearance on March 21. 

“Without our judges, there is no election. Along with our voters, they are the crucial piece to the puzzle that is our democracy,” Yarbrough said.

This year, Cook County increased pay for election judges to $250, a $50 increase from the last election. Polling place technicians, who have more responsibilities in setting up and troubleshooting voting equipment, will make $385, a $20 increase.

This is the first time that the county has boosted the pay for judges during Evanston resident Katie Martin’s 20-year stint as a judge. She said she thinks the change will help with recruitment. 

“Why should it just be a minimum wage job like any other job?” Martin said. “I think it would attract more people if (the county) continues to raise the pay.”

She said the County should also provide compensation to people who take time off from work to be election judges, she said. She sees the shortage of judges as a chronic problem. For the primary election in 2022, Martin said her precinct only had three judges, as opposed to the usual four to five, even with higher-than-expected turnout.

“When you have that few judges, you really can’t go out and get a little break,” Martin said. “You have to be there at five in the morning. And you don’t get home until usually eight o’clock at night. It’s a long day.”

Martin said the election judge population is aging, which contributes to the shortage. The majority of judges she works with are retirees, and she would like to see the county put more effort into recruiting from the working population. 

Mann said while the demanding schedule is the main reason Cook County sees a shortage, the pandemic also had a significant impact. The job requires face-to-face interaction with voters, which can be unsafe for older judges. Plus, Mann said, some people are concerned by recent threats made against poll workers.

Weinberg freshman Jessica Dean worked as an election judge in California before coming to Northwestern. After hearing about the openings in Cook County, Dean said she signed up for the Chicago mayoral primary election in February. 

“I feel pretty accomplished,” Dean said. “It’s our civic duty. If you’re worried about the security of the elections, it’s your duty to do something about it.”

Dean said she thinks there is a lot of interest among college students to be election judges, and she would like to see more promotion of the opportunity. The county should also make in-person training sessions more frequent and accessible, she added, so judges can be fully acquainted with the voting process and technology.

Mann and Martin will be working as election judges in Tuesday’s consolidated election. Mann said he does not anticipate a high turnout, but it is still crucial to make sure people can cast their ballot in person on election day if they choose to. 

“Even though it’s a volunteer position, it’s just so important that every six months or so, (we) do this,” Mann said. “Not a lot of countries in the world have this type of freedom.”

Any registered voter and current resident of the county, as well as high school juniors, seniors and college students, can apply to become an election judge, according to the Clerk’s Office.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @caseeey_he

Related Stories:

School Board races take center stage ahead of election day as early votes are cast

NU students and Evanston residents gear up as volunteer election judges

Cook County residents take on volunteer work to coordinate local elections