Unable to vote, teens work polls as judges

More and more young people step up to perform civic duty

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

Those who went to vote in person on Election Day on Nov. 3 likely saw some new and unfamiliar faces serving as election judges. And many of those faces belonged to judges who were too young to vote themselves.

With many veteran election judges, who tend to be elderly, deciding to sit this one out because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of local teenagers and other new election judges stepped up.

"I wanted to kind of help fill that space," said 17-year-old Tess Obuchowski of Riverside, who served as an election judge for Riverside Township's 9th precinct, whose voters cast ballots at North Riverside's Village Commons.

The teenage election judges tended to be interested in politics and wanted to participate in the election in some way, even though they are too young to vote.

"I feel like it's a very monumental one, and since I'm unable to participate through voting I kind of wanted to contribute how I could," Obuchowski said.

Obuchowski's mother, Diane Silva, also served as first-time election judge last week, and she and her daughter were just one of two mother-daughter pairs working as election judges at Village Commons. 

Mary Stimming was a first-time election judge who recruited her two children, 19-year-old Paul and 17-year-old Elizabeth Centorcelli, to serve as election judges. Paul was stationed at Blythe Park School while Elizabeth joined her mom at the Village Commons. 

"It's cool to see how it all works," said Elizabeth Centrocelli.

Ethan Bork, a 17-year-old election judge from North Riverside liked seeing the election process up close.

"It's just fun to be part of this process that you hear so much about, especially being under 18 where I can't vote," Bork said.

Bork was working Riverside Township's 10th precinct at Village Commons. He was one of five election judges in that precinct -- not one was older than 25.

Bork and 16-year old Nora Ford, also of North Riverside, were joined by 22-year-old Nick Morrison and 23-year-old Colin Hughes, both residents of Riverside, in the precinct. The oldest election judge in the room was 25-year-old Nadia Johnson of Chicago. 

Morrison, a senior political science major at Knox College, likes being immersed politics.

"I think it's my civic duty to work as an election judge," Morrison said. "Part of that is because I'm a political science major and politics is my life."

The young election judges said that they were not too concerned about the virus even though they were working a long day inside a room filled with people coming and going all day.

"I think we're taking all the right precautions," Ford said. "We wipe down everything every five seconds."

Obuchowski wore a face shield in addition to a face mask, because she is in the Riverside-Brookfield High School fall play and wanted to take every precaution.

It was a long day. Polling places open at 6 a.m. in Illinois on Election Day and election judges were supposed to arrive at 5 a.m. 

The polls closed at 7:00 p.m., but after the voting stops election judges have to stay to make sure numbers match, prepare documents and shut down equipment. That typically takes about an hour.

Getting up so early was perhaps the hardest part of the job.

"I can't say it was fun getting up at 4:30, but a little bit of coffee does the trick," said Bork, who also sipped Red Bull during the day to keep his energy up. "It's definitely been a long day."

The young election judges tend to be savvy about technology, and that helps these days with electronic voting and records being kept online. 

"The student judges are great," said Anita Houck, an election judge at Riverside Township Hall who worked with two teenage election judges, Kate Johnson and Jessica Steele for Riverside's 4th Precinct on Election Day.

Johnson found being an election judge interesting and enjoyable.

"It's been really cool to learn the different things that go into making an election," Johnson said. "It was confusing at first, but I think we've figured it out and I am really enjoying it."

Election judges have to be at least a junior or senior in high school and have to have their job applications signed by their high school principal. They are paid $200 for the 14 or 15-hour day, up from $180 before the pandemic

"I'll probably just save it for college," Obuchowski said. "That's what I do with most of the money I earn."

During slow times during the day the election judges chatted or caught up on homework. This year, for the first time, Election Day was a state holiday so school was not in session. 

Ema Bothwell, 16, paged through her Advanced Placement U.S. history study guide during slow times at the polling place at Congress Park School in Brookfield.

She was reading about the Democratic-Republican Party and the Federalist Party, the first political parties in the new nation

"I guess it relates to the election," Bothwell said.

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Fred Mertz  

Posted: November 11th, 2020 1:22 PM

This is great news, hats off to the Landmark for covering this, and to the young adults for stepping up, and doing some civic duty.

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