Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Idea: get more election judges by letting them out of jury duty

We've got a problem: not enough election workers (called election judges in Illinois). Our elections are run essentially by volunteers and we have a lot of elections (four in a two-year cycle). Many election judges are senior citizens and they have to put in a 13 or 14 hour day. It's a challenge every election cycle to generate more volunteer election judges.

In a debate last week before the Los Angeles City Council on a motion to study instant runoff voting and several other reforms put together by rising star Eric Garcetti, President of the Council, Member Janice Hahn expressed a really interesting idea. (You can watch the debate here -- jump to Item #28 on the agenda).

She noted that election judges (called pollwatchers in California) are fulfilling their civic duty and serving the Republic. She also noted that lots of people would prefer not to serve in juries (they are hard to plan and many people get booted out of the jury pool). Council Member Hahn suggested that a great way to increase the number of election judges would be to release election judges from the jury pool, as serving on election day is as much a civic duty as serving on a jury of a defendants' peers.

I think it's a great idea and we ought to implement it in Illinois.


Bob Richard said...

Depending on who uses this option, it might end up introducing a new source of bias in jury pools, which are supposed to be a cross-section of the entire community. Granted, they already aren't a cross-section, for other reasons.

KevinA said...

I don't want my elections conducted by people angling to get out of jury duty. And I want my jury pool to include the civic-minded volunteers who volunteer as election judges.

If you want higher participation but also want equitability, why not select election judges randomly just as we select jurors? It certainly pays better, and as you point it has a determinate time demand.

As I recall, the presiding election judge already has the power to conscript election judges if necessary. Why not take that notion to a higher level and have the Board of Elections run their system just like the county and federal court systems?

I think a similar mechanism is already in place for student: they get community service credit hours for working elections.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Bob, there might be a new bias in jury pools, but there's a very large bias towards non-working people now. That can't be good.

Kevina, I don't care what the motive is for people to run elections. I just want all of the precincts staffed by competent people. Interesting thought to select election judges randomly, perhaps from one unified pool. Or, we should give people some choices. They can sign up to work an election, and if they want to stay in the jury pool because they have more time and they are civic, then great. But if they would rather fulfill their civic duty by serving as an election judge, that's their choice. But it is a good addition to the debate to consider putting their administration together into one large pool of jurors and election judges.