News Local/State

Too Young To Vote, But Old Enough To Be Election Judges


Tuesday is election day … and Champaign County wants to see more high schoolers at polling places – even if they're not old enough to vote yet.

In Illinois – and most other states -- High school students who are at least 16 and in good academic standing are in demand as election judges.

Evy Pyle can't vote. She's only 16. But she's interested in politics and wants to be part of this election.

"When my history teacher told me about the opportunity to go to a polling place and learn more about elections and actually be there and see people vote and help them vote and judge and stuff like that, I was really excited about the opportunity”, said Pyle. “So I signed up, and now I'm at the election class."

The class is an election judge training session, one of nearly three dozen held by Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten in the weeks leading up to the election. Pyle is a junior at Unity High School in Tolono. And she is not the only high schooler in the room. A group of teenagers from schools all around the county are seated at the class' packed conference table.

That's good news for Hulten, who needs upwards of 600 judges to manage the expected high voter turnout at the county's voting precincts. He hopes to recruit around 100 high schoolers for the job.

"We'd like to have one at every voting location in Champaign County", said Hulten.

Volunteer judges play a key role on Election Day. They open the polling places, sign in voters, hand out ballots, and tabulate the final count. In Illinois, which offers same-day voter registration in many areas, judges will also be able to sign up new voters.

And teenagers are in high demand. As technology takes on an increasingly important role in the voting process, County Clerk Hulten says they rely heavily on electronically savvy volunteers.

"High school judges in particular aren't intimidated by working on a laptop all day long, for hours at a time with doing data entry where perfect accuracy is required”, said Hulten. “They are very comfortable with it, and we're excited to use as many of them as we can."

That takes plenty of training, especially this year with more talk than usual about people not trusting the system.

"A new concern that's popped up in the last couple of days is voters who are suspicious of the procedures and the judges, and instead of just engaging in voting, will try to engage in a confrontation because they think something inappropriate is going on”, said Hulten.

Hulten doesn't think voters in Champaign County will be hostile, but he is making sure his judges are trained for all sorts of situations.

For their part, the teenage judges-in-training like Evy Pyle are up for the challenge, and are curious to get an up-close look at the inner workings of democracy.

"I think it's going to be fun”, said Pyle. “I think I'm going to learn a lot about elections, how they take place and what happens there. Because I'm obviously under the age of 18 so I don't really get to go to see that that often so it will be fun to learn that, how that works."

Hulten expects a heavier than normal voter turnout, and reminds everyone that early voting is underway in Champaign County, through Monday, November 7, the day before Election Day.

This story was reported and produced by Kate McQueen, a journalism student at the University of Illinois.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Evy Pyle's first time. We apologize for the error.