Monday, December 6, 2010

Here Come da Judge!

Just call me “Judge Bob,” but “Your honor” will do.

Yes, I’m a judge.

Ok, I’ll confess that I haven’t flown to London to buy a black robe and a white, horse-hair wig.  In fact, my judgeship is for just two days, not for life.  I’m a check-in judge with our county’s Board of Elections.  On September 14 I held court for the first time—and on November 2 for the second.  So, really, I was a judge—past tense at least until the 2012 election cycle begins. 

You’ve probably already guessed that my courtroom was in a school lunchroom.  Judgment days—oops, election days--were long.  We arrived at 6 a.m. to make last- minute checks of the electronic polling equipment we set up the previous evening.  The polls were open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.  And then we had to take down and pack the polling equipment—which took us until 10 p.m.

“We” were a crew of 11.  That included five of us check-in judges running four electronic poll books.  We checked in voters, who then went to three voting unit judges, who took each voter to one of the 11 electronic polling units.  One provisional ballot judge cared for voters with registration issues.  Two chief judges oversaw the whole operation and solved problems small and large.

Requirements for election judges vary from state to state, so I won’t detail Maryland requirements.  Interestingly, I’ll never qualify as one of the two chief judges because one must be a Republican and one  a Democrat, and I’m an independent.  But the pay is great: $360, which after taxes will be less than breath taking but above minimum wage.

What are my impressions of my judgeship?

We had excellent support from the central office, including a hands-on training session a few weeks before election day and a well-organized and comprehensive “Election Judges’ Manual 2010,”in  which I reviewed the work of a check-in judge the evening before each election.

Setting up went quickly.  Several experienced judges opened boxes and pulled out equipment and ran wires and plugged in stuff at a dizzying rate. 

Taking things down went slowly—because all those pieces of equipment and wires and plugs had to go back into their original cases—quite a challenge for first-time judges—but we did have lists to help sort things out.  After the first go-round, I took my digital camera for the second unpacking and photographed the boxes when they were first opened so we could more easily place the items back into the correct boxes.  Another check-in judge brought masking tape and attached letter codes to each piece in sample boxes to also hasten the repacking process.

People also impressed me.  First were the members of our team.  Some had 20 years experience, and some, like me, were first-timers.  Within an hour we all knew each other by first name and had smooth working relationships.  I’d guess most were retirees, but some were younger, one with children in elementary school.

Another point: Voters in our county can’t be easily characterized, or should I say stereotyped?  Old and young—Asian, African-American, Caucasian—male and female—rich and poor—you name it—they all come with Democratic, Republican, and unaffiliated labels.

I was disappointed in one way.  Only 22% of voters exercised their right to help choose their party’s candidates in the September primary.  I was happier when more than 57% voted in November.

If you think you’d like to be a judge, contact your local Board of Elections.  It’s a great way to contribute to your community.

If you become a judge expect a friend to mimic entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., and announce your arrival with the shout, “Here come da judge!”

To view a classic 31-second YouTube video of Sammy Davis doing his comedy routine, CLICK HERE.

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