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Cook County targets teens as judges, techs in upcoming election

Marquise Russell recalled how Cook County clerk’s office representatives came to Prairie State College a few years ago to help students register to vote and encourage them to be poll workers.

Now 28, Russell said he signed up as a college student to work at the Roosevelt Elementary School polling location in Chicago Heights for the 2020 election, a move that led to his first job after college.

While working that election, he met someone who connected him with his current job as an English language teacher at Chicago Heights Middle School.

Being a poll worker makes for a long day, Russell said, but he really enjoyed helping voters and checking them in, and it has benefits beyond even the networking opportunities that helped him land a job.

“It’s important to get involved in your community, and this is one of the ways to pay back to your community,” Russell said.

The Cook County clerk’s office is encouraging residents to apply to be poll workers. Officials are specifically targeting high school and college students to apply to be election judges and polling place technicians during the Nov. 8 gubernatorial general election.

The clerk’s office has managed 782 polling locations throughout suburban Cook County. Last election, the office employed about 300 student judges “who helped voters and their fellow election judges at the polls run a safe and secure Election Day,” according to a news release from the office.

In an effort to hire more young voters to work as election judges, elections staff has visited high schools and colleges throughout Cook County to recruit and register them to vote, said Frank Herrera, director of communications for the clerk’s office.

Elections staff have also sent flyers and letters to community colleges, as well as every college newspaper and radio outlet, Herrera said.

Herrera said the clerk’s office has been developing partnerships with area colleges to possibly allow students to earn credits by working on Election Day. So far, the office has secured such a partnership with Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, he said.

“Young people bring a special type of energy and enthusiasm to a polling place. We want to engage them in election work so that they are in a position to help their communities and fall in love with their democracy at the same time,” said Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough.

“Students also have great familiarity and comfort with technology, which gives them a distinct advantage at a polling place to assist voters and to help their fellow election judges,” Yarbrough said. “And if all those reasons were not enough, they can earn some cash in the process.”

Election judges work together to make sure their polling location “is running smoothly and voters are properly served,” Herrera said.

After completing training, election judges set up the polling place, work on Election Day from 5 am until the results are filed and the equipment is packed up, serve voters while the polls are open from 6 am to 7 pm, check voters in, register Eligible residents to vote and hand out ballots, Herrera said.

An election judge has to be a registered Cook County voter or an eligible college of high school student. The office particularly needs bilingual election judges who can speak Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Tagalog, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Gujarati, Urdu or Arabic, according to the release.

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The position pays $200, according to the clerk’s office.

A polling place technician works with the election judges to check supplies and equipment and assist with setup, maintenance and take down of election equipment. The technicians deliver materials from the precinct to a nearby receiving station after polls close, Herrera said.

A polling place technician has to be a US citizen, either a registered Cook County voter or a college student with at least a 3.0 GPA and have access to a car and cellphone on Election Day, Herrera said.

The position pays $365 because of the additional training required, according to the release.

The office aims to have at least three election judges and one polling place technician at each location, Herrera said, but some larger precincts require more staff. The office also aims to have at least one person per political party working as a poll worker and “try to get as close to equal as possible,” he said.

“Our judges are the gatekeepers for election operations and their work is critically important to keeping Election Day running smoothly,” Yarbrough said in the release. “They are also the unsung heroes of our democratic process who provide a vital public service to voters leading up to and on Election Day.”

Residents interested in working as a poll worker can apply online at cookcountyclerk.com/work.

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