Election has residents lining up to help at polls

  • Article by: JEANNINE AQUINO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 15, 2008 - 1:15 AM

South metro cities say there's no shortage of people interested in serving as judges, a dramatic change from past years.

Pam Gackstetter had no idea the response would be so great.

After advertising the need for election judges in early March, the Apple Valley city clerk was overwhelmed by residents eager to get involved. For the first time, Gackstetter had her pick of candidates and even had to turn 150 potential judges away.

"In the past, we have had barely enough judges who have come forth willing to serve. This year, we did some extra advertising, but I think many more people have responded due to interest in the election," Gackstetter said.

The sentiment is echoed by other south metro cities where there's been no shortage of people interested in becoming election judges. And although "regulars" -- those (traditionally older) residents who volunteer each election -- still make up a majority of judges, many cities are also seeing a greater interest among the younger population.

Judi Hawkins, Lakeville's deputy city clerk, said she's seeing more than just retirees getting interested in being election judges.

"Some of our election judges have been here and worked here for many years. But I think more and more younger people are getting interested in doing it too. We have a lot of working-age adults that sign up who are still in the workforce," she said.

In Eagan, the city has close to 100 high school students lined up to serve as trainee election judges, said City Clerk Maria Petersen. The students round out about 400 judges who will serve the city's 21 precincts on Nov. 4.

"We have a pretty good number," she said. "We had quite an interest early on even before the primary. It's more than we've seen in years past."

Election judges are responsible for opening and closing the polling place, distributing the ballots, registering new voters and determining the results at the end of the day.

Because high voter turnout is expected throughout the state, many city clerks started recruiting judges early this year. Many used their city newsletters websites, and databases of former election judges to find people willing to sign up. The cities also got lists from both the DFL and Republican parties of people who had indicated an interest during the caucuses.

City Clerk Deb Little of Northfield said the city has 128 judges but is still looking for at least 10 more to serve as back-ups.

"It's not a year that we want to be short-staffed by any means. We want to be sure that we have adequate numbers of election judges for what we expect and hear by all predictions will be a high voter turnout," Little said.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said Minnesota is much better than other states in recruiting and retaining election judges. He attributes it partially to an increase in the number of retirees able to serve as judges. Corporate and academic institutions have also helped by encouraging their employees and students to be election judges, he said.

"I think that anything that gets citizens interested in the election process makes it easier to get election judges. If the election is exciting, I think that helps. I also think there's a shift in people's understanding that election administration is an important role in society," Ritchie said.

Alex Beeby, a manager at a food co-op in Northfield, said this historic presidential election amplifies how important it is for the voting system to have the integrity citizens expect. Entering his sixth year as an election judge, Beeby said he keeps coming back because he feels it's "such an invigorating experience to take part in the pivotal moment of our country."

"It's kind of one of those things where everything our country stands for comes down to one day in November," he said. "It's a privilege and an honor to take part in that."

Ryan Price, Apple Valley's only election judge still in high school, said he wanted to be involved because it was a chance to do something not everybody gets to do. The Eastview High School student turned 18 the day before the primaries, making him eligible to be a judge this year.

"One reason I did it is because it makes the process less distant. It makes it less intimidating. For some kids, voting can be a scary thing. Me, not only have I voted, but I worked as an election judge," he said.

Beeby said he hopes people will arrive at the polls with the understanding there will be long lines and remain patient.

"This is an important day. It's a holiday as far as I'm concerned," Beeby said. "It's more important than the Fourth of July. It's actually implementing what the Fourth of July stands for. If we approach it with that festive attitude, then things are going to run smoothly and everybody's going to have a good time."

Jeannine Aquino • 952-882-9056

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