Many election judges have decades of experience

Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Joen Slaughter passes a sample ballot sheet to Betty Hopen as they go through election judge training Oct. 28 at the Drury Lodge. Election judges received instruction on how to run the voting precincts.

They work 15 or more hours without a break. Their pay is $100 for the day. And they must remain pleasant and helpful all day, regardless of whether the people they are helping are cheerful or abusive.

Election judges have some of the most part-time of part-time jobs, working up to four, or perhaps five, days in a year. And today could truly test their abilities, with Cape Girardeau County Clerk Kara Clark expecting as many as 8,000 more votes to be cast than have ever been recorded in the county.

"It is going to be a very, very busy election, so I hope everybody is prepared for a very, very busy day," Clark told a group of election judges going through training last week at the Drury Lodge in Cape Girardeau.

Each polling place must have a minimum of four election judges, two from each of the major parties. But more than 400 will be on the job today.

Many, like Rudie and Joan Slaughter, are retired. The Slaughters moved to Cape Girardeau about 12 years ago and, at the urging of Joan Slaughter, took on the task of being election judges. They will be stationed today at Grace United Methodist Church.

County Clerk Kara Clark listens to a question from Rudie Slaughter during a training session for election judges on Tuesday, October 28, 2008.

Joan Slaughter has been an election judge for about 35 years in various locations in Missouri. She said most of the time the work is tiring but routine. But every so often, she said, she sees something that's just odd.

"There are a lot of annoying things that happen, but the funniest is when they wear the shirt where they are campaigning for a candidate and that is not permitted," she said. "We tell them they need to take the shirt off or turn it inside out. One time, a person did that right in front of us. It was the only shirt he had on."

The average age of election judges is 68. While that may not sound too old, the median age in the county is 35. And many are much older and have been acting as election judges for decades, which creates some worries for Clark because she needs regular replacements.

"We had several retire this year due to health reasons, and I think we will see more of that every year," Clark said. "We have been trying to recruit more for every election, and every time I talk to a group I mention that."

The party chairs of the Democratic and Republican county committees are responsible under state law to suggest names of people who could work as election judges. There haven't been many names coming from that source, Clark said, and she accepts anyone's declaration of party preference in order to fill the jobs.

The parties have promised to work more diligently to find election judges, Clark said. "I think they finally realized we are going to take whoever is good and whoever we can get who is good and willing to serve."

One source of new judges, especially ones who are technologically savvy, are students, Clark said.

Joan Slaughter said she was impressed by the young men and women who have signed up to help.

"I was just amazed," she said. "They were really quick and really smart. They didn't know anything when they started, but in five minutes they were marvellous."

Rudie Slaughter is a retired agricultural economist. He and his wife moved to Cape Girardeau from Central Missouri after their wedding a dozen years ago. He had never been an election judge before, but was attracted to it because of the difficulties he had experienced at times in the past.

"They have difficulty reading and understanding, it slows down the process and I knew I could help," he said.

One of the most common problems, he said, is people who try to vote at the wrong precinct. Sometimes that happens when a person moves and doesn't realize they have a new voting location; other times it is the result of incorrect information they have been given about where to vote.

"We have had some unhappy voters sent to the wrong precinct to vote and people get unhappy when you bounce them around," Slaughter said.

Despite the long hours and low pay, Slaughter, 77, said he will continue to work at the polls as long as he is able. "We are all very tired at the end of a day, but I have never heard anybody say they weren't going to do it again."


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