Nineteen U of C students trekked north to the polls at the crack of dawn this morning, not as hyper-eager voters but as election judges.
With 10 serving as Democratic judges and nine as Republican judges, the group will have a long day ahead of them, working at polls in the 32nd Ward from as early as 5 a.m. until after the polls close at 7 p.m. But the more than 14-hour work day will not be without reward: In addition to the experience of actively participating in the democratic process, the students will end the day with $170 in their pockets upon completion of their service.
But for first-year and first-time election judge Cristina Schaver, the money is only an added bonus.
“A lot of people will ask, ‘Is it worth it for [$170] to spend more than 13 hours at the polls on top of the three-hour training?’ But I’m excited about it. It’ll be rewarding in itself. It’s going to be intense but I’m excited,” Schaver said.
Schaver, a dual citizen of Spain and the U.S., considers the opportunity to be especially momentous for her personally, as it is her first election as a voter and as a citizen.
In preparation for the event, the students attended a training session held by the Chicago Board of Elections. Scott Waguespack, the alderman of the 32nd Ward, also came to the University in order to speak as part of their orientation.
Waguespack spoke about his career as an outsider running against established aldermen and the infamous cronyism of Chicago politics, especially in the polls when allies of the local politicians would play dirty. His speech impressed upon Schaver the importance of fair elections.
“I really respected that. I’m excited to participate in the process and have a greater understanding from a nonpartisan, fair point of view,” she said.
Schaver and the other 18 judges, ranging from first-years to graduate students, will help with verifying voter applications, handing out ballots, directing voters to electronic voting booths, and assisting voters with disabilities.
Election judges were encouraged to vote early, as working from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. will provide little time to cast their own ballots.
“I had to vote absentee, so my [first-time voting] experience wasn’t as good. But it’s definitely worth it. I’m skipping class for this,” said first-year election judge Brock Huebner.
The opportunity to serve as a student election judge was sponsored by the Institute of Politics (IOP) in collaboration with the Chicago Board of Elections as a new program for U of C students this year, though any college student with a 3.0 GPA can volunteer as an election judge after submitting an application in Chicago. Many of the student judges, like Schaver and Huebard, heard about the opportunity through the IOP’s Facebook and Twitter campaigns.
“I’m pretty ignorant about how polling stations are run, and I would’ve had no idea that this opportunity existed without the Institute of Politics,” said fourth-year election judge Isaac Dalke.
–Additional reporting by Linda Qiu