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Thanks to continued unfounded allegations of election fraud, this year’s elections are under increased scrutiny. As we head into election season and the August 9 primary, we wanted to hear from an election judge to learn more about the job and the increased pressure.
Election judges are your neighbors—often literally; for the longest time I ran into my next-door neighbor serving as a judge at the polls. We talked to Doug Fromm, an experienced election judge who has served for decades, to learn more about the process.
“There seems to be more voters who mistrust the process, when the process is really good, transparent, and accurate.”Doug Fromm
More About Doug Fromm
“Experienced” is an understatement when it comes to Doug Fromm’s election judge credentials. He’s served as an election judge for about 38 years in three states and seven different communities. Fromm has lived in West St. Paul for over 20 years, serving in his first election here back in 2004.
When he’s not ensuring the wheels of democracy run smoothly, Fromm works as a software quality assurance engineer for HPE. He’s married to Julie and has three kids (he points out they’re all eligible to vote).
Conversation With Election Judge Doug Fromm
We asked Doug a few questions about serving as an election judge:
Why do you serve as an election judge?
I have been an election judge for around 38 years, first working when I was 17 (think Mondale vs. Reagan). One of the reasons I continue to be an election judge is the fact that, on election day, people of all political persuasions—Republican, Democrats, third-party supporters, and independents—can come together for the common good of our democracy and ensure a fair, safe, unbiased voting experience. It really helps me renew my confidence in our system of government.
Another reason is that we are really a representative democracy. For almost all issues the only time we, as citizens, have any impact on our own governance is when we cast our vote. This includes voting for our representatives, who ultimately vote on issues that impact our daily lives. I want to do my part to ensure that every eligible voter has a chance to help determine who ultimately represents them in the democratic process.
What does the job of an election judge entail?
Essentially ensuring that every eligible voter that comes to the polling location is able to vote and have that vote counted. There are several individual roles that make this happen. Such as:
- Greeter judge: Ensures that voters are in the correct precinct, helps those that are not in the right precinct find their voting location, and answers any questions a voter might have.
- Roster judge: Check in pre-registered voters.
- Registration judge: Now usually the same person as a roster judge, helps new, eligible voters register to vote.
- Ballot judge: Verifies that we have the right ballots. Issues new ballots to registered voters,
- Demonstration judge: Often the same as ballot judges, explains to voters how to properly fill out the ballot.
- Ballot counter judge: Stands near the ballot counter box, ensures that voter ballots are accepted by the ballot counting machine, ensures the machine is running properly, and, very important, hands each voter an “I Voted” sticker.
- Head judge: Responsible for ensuring the whole process at the precincts runs as designed. Includes ensuring that all the numbers balance at the end of the night.
What’s your favorite experience from your time as an election judge?
The 2008 election. That was my first election as a head judge, so that was a new experience for me. But what was really amazing was the strong turnout and all the new, excited, first-time voters—the most energy I have felt in any election I ever worked.
How hard is it to be an election judge?
Easy, just apply with the city clerk or contact your party officials. The best time to apply is the spring before an election. But the people who hire election judges are often looking for judges right up to the week before an election.
There’s very good training provided. Most judges are hired for both primary and the general election. But the primaries tend to be low stress, slow days where new judges have plenty of opportunity to ease into their jobs and learn from more experienced judges.
New judges are often assigned the easier roles, with an opportunity to take on more challenging roles in subsequent elections. Primaries are a great time for new election judges to practice their training working several roles during the day.
The individual tasks themselves are not hard. The process is quite streamlined.
Elections get a lot more attention these days after the many false allegations of election fraud. Does that make the job of an election judge harder?
It does. There seems to be more voters who mistrust the process, when the process is really good, transparent, and accurate.
We have had more people challenge the process in the polls, which makes the job a bit more stressful, especially for head election judges.
However, the process is so streamlined and transparent, that it’s impossible to legitimately find real issues in the polling place.
The key is to adhere to the process and follow the guidelines.
It helps tremendously that representatives from all major parties are invited to become judges. In fact, there are always at least a couple Republicans, Democrats, and independent/non-aligned judges working in every polling place.
Thanks to Doug Fromm for sharing his insights with us. Don’t forget to check out our primary voter’s guide for more on the upcoming election. And please vote!
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(Photo by Matthew Schempp)