Election Judges and Poll Watchers CW 48- Transcript

lection Judges and Poll WatchersJohn Tsarpalas: Well, I’m just back from CPAC 2016 held, just outside of Washington D.C. I was there doing a training in the American Majority Boot Camp. It was fun. It was great there, great operation. American Majority puts on such good programs of training for activists and candidates. And I was there to help with “How to Win the Room, Public Speaking Success”. Really enjoyed it.

And CPAC’s an amazing thing. If you’re a conservative, libertarian – it’s worth seeing it once. 4,000 or 5,000 people, giant, giant halls with lots of interesting speakers and break-out sessions for activists and training, and also break-out sessions on policy and different topics being presented by many of the better think tanks in the world.

Lots going on, lots of people. Caught up with some old friends, made some new friends, and I also came back with one little thought that I wanted to add, because just a few weeks ago, in Commonwealthy #46, Using FOIA with Jason Hart, we were talking about the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, and there was an interesting idea put forth by a presenter at American Majority in a session, that you could put out a press release as a candidate simply for filing FOIA requests on your opponent.

In other words, if your opponent’s an elected official, and maybe you suspect something’s wrong, you file an FOIA request and you put out a press release that you have done a Freedom of Information Act request on this elected official, this candidate, to find out more so that you can inform the public.

And it some ways, it kind of intimates that something’s wrong, even if you don’t know for sure, but it’s a good way to get some press. And I thought, “Oh I like that idea.” I thought that I would let people know that right away, didn’t want to forget it. I want people to understand it.

So today on Commonwealthy, we’re gonna talk about two key roles that you need to recruit for in your campaign, and these people are essential on election day. Those are election judges and poll watchers. They can have some overlapping duties and they also obviously have separate duties. But they’re important to be successful. So today, on Commonwealthy #48, it’s election judges and poll watchers.

So on election day, a campaign has identified those people that are voting for them, and often they’re called pluses, identified people that are not voting for them (those are called negatives or minuses), and those that are still unidentified and uncommitted. Often the unidentified are not voting for you, and they’re too afraid to say that to you, or to your people on the phone, or door-to-door, or your volunteers, whoever that may be. So in a good Get Out the Vote plan, you know who’s voting for you, the people you have ID-ed, and you’re trying to get them, and trying is an operative word, you need to get them to the polls to vote.

And you start during the early voting period, reminding them with phone calls or door knocks, usually phone calls during this period, telling them where they can vote and they need to go vote. And urging them that this is a very close election, that it’s important that they show up to support you and vote.

And those that are literally out of town, mailing the absentee ballot applications to that out of town address or if they’re overseas, in the military, you would have worked on these during the absentee period. But it comes down to election day, and there are two key people on election day that can help your campaign in multiple ways. And that’s the person that is an election judge, and also a poll watcher.

So let’s break this down. An election judge is usually paid by the county or the area that’s administrating the election, but most places it’s done by county. There’s usually a county board of elections. And usually, most polling places have election judges from two parties minimally. Usually Democrat, usually Republican. In a non-partisan race, there is still usually a Democrat judge, a Republican judge although they’re not necessarily referred to as that.

However, don’t be naive and think that in a non-partisan race, that the parties don’t have candidates that are Democrats and Republicans. In the Chicago area, they’re all either Democrats and some Republicans, not enough, and they may be running non-partisan but they’re all still on the Democrats side. And they have to worry about election fraud within their sides. That’s a worry in many areas. Particularly in my mind with Democrats.

By the way, here’s a little side thought and we’ll have a separate podcast on election fraud, but I was Executive Director of the Illinois Republican Party. I went through Republican National Campaign Committee College. I also attended RNC meetings in which the Executive Directors were there, state party chairman, and there was always an emphasis that cheating would not be tolerated at any level.

And quite frankly, I don’t know of any Republicans that have cheated personally. I do know that there were some stories back in the 80’s in New Jersey of some Republicans that did something wrong. But for the most part, I think they’re for fair and honest elections, no matter what the media points out. And the media says, “Both sides do it.” Well, in the Chicago area, I think, I believe, I know it’s only the Democrats doing it. But we’ll get into that at a whole other time.

But an election judge is the front line in preventing voter fraud. The election judge is someone there to make sure that the person coming is registered to vote, is in the right place to vote, the process of voting is conducted in secrecy and the person gets to have their privacy to vote they want without intimidation.

The other obvious big function for an election judge is to facilitate holding the election. They get there, they set up the equipment, they test the equipment, they make sure that everything is in place, then they make sure that the things run fairly, of course, which we just talked about. And then at the end of the night, they process the vote.

They do the counts. Often it’s electronic. Years ago they used to count ballots, some places you still have to count a few paper ballots or provisional ballots. Depends on the system, and there’s all kinds of voting machines and systems. Some of them are touch screen, some of them are paper ballots that are then scanned. I think they got rid of the hanging chads famous from the 2000’s elections. In most places those were punch cards, but maybe not. That probably some places that still have that type of equipment.

It is the judges job to make sure that all this is going smoothly, that it’s all set up and it’s all working. And that if it’s not working to report it to the county board of elections or whoever the proper government body is here. For instance, in the city of Chicago, the city of Chicago has its own board of elections separate from the county. Like they really need a separate body, but anyway, of course, they can have more bureaucracy, spend more money, and perhaps, I hate to say steal the vote in other ways, but I’m a cynic, and I don’t trust Democrats, especially in big cities.

Then at the end of the night, after everything is counted, and hopefully it all goes smoothly. I’ve been a judge where it hasn’t gone smoothly and I’ve been a judge where it has gone smoothly. You work it through it, you do the best you can, at some point. One time I was a judge and they actually told us to give up. I mean, it was like midnight and it still was messed up, and it really wasn’t our fault. It was the equipment’s fault that was not processing the way it’s supposed to process. Because we’d done it before that way and it worked, and I did it afterward and it worked.

And then you report the counts, and often currently it’s done by a radio wave, I mean it’s just a send button and it transmits it. Or in some places, you’re actually bringing in signed sheets that are signed and initialed by all the judges to prove that it’s correct and they’re in sealed packets. And you bring in a certain amount of stuff no matter what, even in the mostly electronic there are extra paper ballots and things that are returned to a central location where this is all processed.

So a judge has a huge job. It takes multiple judges to make this work and it is a system that has places where things can go awry, and there are ways people can cheat. And I’m sorry to say that happens. An election judge is essential, and we need election judges of at least two parties and multiple judges.

If I haven’t said this already, I’m going to say it again. If you’ve got guts, you have courage, there are neighborhoods that really need election judges from the Republican party to show up. There are inner city, so-called scary precincts where there’s no one there but Democrats, local residents, no one watching the vote, and so it’s really important that, if you’ve got some guts and some nerve and you want to go to a neighborhood like that, it’s important.

We need people to go in there and try to provide some balance. You might be threatened, I don’t know. If you are, you call the proper authorities and report it, but if you can step up for somebody like that, that would be huge. Not my cup of tea. I do go into Democrat areas, but not scary ones, because there’s usually a shortage.

I’m the only Republican judge in precinct the last time I worked as a judge. I was the only Republican judge there. There were four Democrat judges and I was the only Republican because they couldn’t get Republicans in that area. Republicans won’t go in there, and for me it was a 45-minute drive from home versus going to my local precinct, but I wanted to get into an area where I could provide some balance. But it wasn’t the scary neighborhood. So that’s different.

That’s the job of an election judge, and it’s important that you help recruit election judges for your campaign, your election I should say, for the board of elections. Now, most places, the parties do that and there’s someone at the party that you can refer those people that you find for judge to, and the beautiful thing about election judges, it’s paid by the county.

Here in Chicago, it depends on how much training you go to. It’s somewhere between $150 and $200, and it’s not a lot of money. I’ve been an election judge, I know. We usually go the day before to partially set up the poll, that usually takes a couple hours, and then you’re there, the polls here in Chicago open at 6 a.m. and they close at 7:00 p.m., so it’s a 13 hour day.

But you’re usually there an hour beforehand, so now you’re at 14 hours, and it’s usually two hours to close, so you’re at 15 hours, and then you get paid a little bit extra if you’re the person that delivers the ballots and some of the equipment back to the polling place. There’s also what they call an equipment judge and they get extra training and they get more money, which I’ve not been an equipment judge.

So you’re making like $10 an hour if you’re lucky. Usually, it’s a little less than that. It’s not quite…well, I guess it’s more than the minimum wage. But you’re doing it for a couple of reasons. Number one, it’s a good thing to do, it’s civics. It’s a good thing for your community to be an election judge. It’s a good thing to have an honest election and keep voting fair and honest. I mean somebody stealing and cheating the vote is canceling somebody else’s vote, and it’s just wrong.

So not only is the civic pride of being able to be an election judge, and the pay, but an election judge, even in Illinois, and I don’t know if it’s true in every state, can also be a poll watcher for a campaign. And I get into that in a minute, what a poll watcher does.

One of the problems I have had as a campaign manager, or as someone who’s operating a GOP organization, a lot of judges don’t want to be a poll watcher too. They feel like it’s a conflict of interest, but it’s not illegal here in Illinois. They can sit in the poll and do the checkoff, that I’m going to explain that the poll watcher does. But so many of them don’t want to do it. It makes them nervous, they feel it’s awkward.

In the old days and not so old days, a precinct committeeman, precinct captain, depending on where you are and what title you have, is often an election judge in their precinct. And they would sit there and check off who came in and who didn’t come in, or know who didn’t come in. They check off who came in. And then they take a lunch break and at lunch they go out to their car, actually they’d run home in the old days, and make phone calls to those people who hadn’t shown up, to remind them to show up to vote. And that can still happen.

You can still work off paper, and that still can happen with an election judge, and it can happen with a poll watcher. And the precinct captain is the ideal person to be the poll watcher in a precinct because he should know who the people are, whose coming in, and who he needs to turn out.

So let’s get to the role of the poll watcher because I think I might be confusing you a little bit. The whole idea on election day is to get those people that are identified your pluses to the polls to vote for you. However, you have limited time and limited manpower, and it’s a huge waste of time calling remind people to go vote who’ve already voted. It’s also aggravating to the people who’ve already voted to be getting a call reminding them to go vote again.

So in a perfect world, you’ve downloaded who early voted, and you’ve downloaded who’s applied for an absentee ballot and who’s submitted, and you’ve taken those people off your list of those people who could be voting for you. And you take them off your list of pluses, then you’ve got a list left of people that haven’t voted who are supporting you, and you’ve got to get them to the polls on election day.

So you start calling them at nine in the morning, reminding them that it’s election day. You might have run an automated call the night before reminding them to go vote, and it’s a personalized call. And it’s telling them where they can vote and where their polling place is, so they know where to go and the hours. As I said, starting at 9 a.m. on election day you’re calling them.

If you have enough manpower, in an ideal world you have enough poll watchers, one person to sit in every precinct, and what’s their job? To get there just before the poll opens and to find out who’s coming in to vote, and have a list of all the voters in that district, and checking them off whose come in.

In a perfect situation, you have as many poll watchers as you have precincts. And their job is to sit in the poll and check off the voters that are coming in, so they have a list with them. It can be on paper, but in an ideal world, and you’ve got a good voter system, such as Voter Gravity, you can check off on your smartphone. The list is there, you just click on them when they come in.

Now, a poll watcher has to have credentials. Campaigns get the credentials from the board of elections, and usually, the credential has to be signed by the candidate. Now I don’t know if that’s true on a national level, but on a local level, that’s true.

So you get your credential, you give it to your poll watcher, you give them the list in an electronic format or a paper format, and ideally you give them a paper list as backup in case the electronics go down. They get there just before the poll opens, if the polls open at 6:00, you tell them to be there at a quarter to 6:00, they report into the poll at 5:45, and they approach an election judge and say, “I’m here to be a poll watcher for such-and-such campaign, and here’s my credential.”

Usually, the election judge takes that credential and they file it in the papers to be filed with the board of elections. Then the poll watcher usually has a right to sit behind the judges, behind the desk, and they have a right if they can’t hear the name when it’s being asked, and they can’t see it, they have a right to ask. And the judge is supposed to let them know who that was, and they check them off of their list in their smartphone or on their paper, depending on what system they’re on.

What happens from there? Well, on the smartphone it’s automatically reporting back into the campaign system, so the campaign headquarters knows whose voted, and that is automatically coming off the list of phone calls to make. So for every hour, you’re seeing the list getting smaller and smaller, and as that’s less people in the universe that still need to be called. The other thing that you’ll see is that as you make phone calls, especially later in the day, they’ll be waves at the polling place because people get the call and it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, “Look, it’s really important. It’s down to the wire, we need you to go vote.”

And people will hang up the phone, put on their coat and go vote. And so the polling places will see small waves happening, if you’re working by precinct especially. So people come in and you’re checking them off. The problem is shortage of manpower. It’s best to have more poll watchers in the morning, and the later in the day the better, but most people can’t give you a full 14 hour day to sit there, but they can give you a half a day.

So they’ll sit there from 6:00 to 10:00, 6:00 to 12:00, I have poll watchers that will work 6:00 to 9:00 and then go to work an hour later. But you’ve got some data in, you’ve figured out less people that need be called. Number one, you need enough volunteers in your office to man the phones, and then number two, you’re switching them over to poll watcher.

The other thing that can happen is you need to target those precincts that are key to you. Precincts that have more Republicans in it than are in other precincts. I mean there are precincts that are going to have very few Republican votes in it, or if this is a non-partisan race, those precincts where you think you’ve got more support. Because you want to know about your supporters showing, you don’t care about the other guy’s supporters, if they’re showing up or not, it’s irrelevant. All that’s important is knowing where your people are, who they are, and getting them there.

So does this make sense? You’ve got people checking off and the automatic systems are reporting back in. What we would do in a paper system, and there are times you go to paper, because number one, you don’t have an electronic system, you can’t afford it, or number two, the system is down, and so you should always be prepared with paper systems as backup.

Because I have been in races where I know that the Democrats have attacked my website and attacked my systems. It’s happened. I’m positive. Because it’s funny how it doesn’t work on election day, but it worked the day before, and it worked the day after. Denial of service and things like that. They hack in, they do different things. Anyway, so paper systems as backup.

If it’s paper, you need somehow to get that list from the poll watcher whose at the poll into headquarters. The poll watchers’ quitting at 10:00, they drop it off at headquarters. If that poll watcher’s gonna sit there till 2:00 or 3:00, I would always have a system, of what I called runners. And these would be people that would drive around from poll to poll and pick up the poll watcher’s sheet, and make sure the poll watcher has a new sheet to start on, bring lists with as well as poll watcher might have been given two or three paper sheets.

Bring those lists back in, when they’re brought back into headquarters, they can immediately be entered into the system and taken out of the system, and the calls can be cut back because there’s just less people that need to be turned out. Poll watchers are key.

You can know exactly where you’re at, if you’ve identified enough positives, enough pluses, people that are voting for you before election day, and you are driving them to the polls, you can know if you won or not if you know who has shown up. And how many of them shown up, if enough have shown up and you’ve checked off that they’ve shown up, that matches your goal to win, you won the election. You know you won without ever even having to wait for the polls to close.

However, you have to have a lot of manpower to do all that tracking, and often you don’t have it. So again, strategically, think about where you’ve been, where you’re targeting, what are those key areas, those precincts with more people voting for you? Work those hard, work those first, and work those with poll watchers.

Something else that can happen is while you’re calling and someone says…you call a voter and they say, “Hey I’ve already voted.” But you’ve just called them, so somethings wrong in the data system. That person should then go back in the system and check them off as having voted so that they’re not getting called again. Again, you’re trying to cut down on the number of calls you’re making, so that you’re not repeating those calls to people that have already voted.

You’re not wasting volunteers time and later in the day, you’ll have a smaller amount of volunteers left because they’ve been there for the morning, half a day, whatever they could take off of work. And by the way, you’re telling those volunteers and those poll watchers and those election judges to come by for the party on election night. They’re all welcome, there should be food, drink and you should thanking them profusely for their time and their volunteering. And that goes for judges, too.

And we always invited the judges, because we want the judges to be on our side. We want the judges to be sticking up for us, even if they weren’t poll watching for us they gotta be sticking up for us to keep the vote fair. So that’s kinda in a nutshell what a poll watcher does and an election judge. These are key roles and it’s all about having enough manpower.

Now let’s switch gears for a minute and look at this as if, or what it’s like to be a poll watcher because I’ve been a poll watcher and I’ve been an election judge. It’s fun. First off, it’s fun. I enjoy it. After a while, people loosen up. The morning’s usually busy, and so it’s kinda hectic and the judges are a little skeptical of who you are, especially the other parties judges are kinda looking at you cross-eyed like you’re evil.

Yeah, too bad. They’re the evil ones, but anyway, it goes on like that and it calms down, and people start to have conversations. And it’s slower, you know, 10:00 in the morning and there’s not a lot of people coming in. And you start to talk and you make friends. You get to know people and you get to know a little bit about their lives in chatting, and so on and so forth.

It is important as a poll watcher and a judge to bring with, plenty something to drink, I usually bring a lot of water, number one, and food. There’s no way to get out and years ago it was harder. Nowadays, you can call Jimmy John’s and they’ll deliver right to you fast. Really fast. However, used to bring sandwiches, just to bring some fruit, vegetables, etc. etc. Carrots and stuff, that’s what I mean by vegetables. So you had some snacks because it’s a long day. You need breakfast. I mean you’re there from 5:00 in the morning, so you gotta eat breakfast at 6:00 or 7:00 or somewhere in there, 8:00.

You gotta eat lunch around noon, gonna need a snack around 4:00 or 5:00, and quite frankly if you’re stuck at the poll because things aren’t going too fast, and you’re there till 8:00 or 9:00, you’re gonna want something else for dinner. So be sure and bring lots of things and pack for that.

Also, clothing. Layers. Our elections are usually in November, and our primaries are in March, and in Chicago, both months can be anything. Cold, snow, hot, you never know, so I usually try to bring layers, wear layers, take the sweater off, got a decent shirt underneath, etc. etc. I can make myself comfortable. Sometimes I would even bring a change of shoes because it got old.

Something else to think about, this is up to the election judges, but there is no electioneering in the polling place. That means you cannot be wearing any kind of buttons in support or stickers. You’re not there to talk about the candidate or the campaign, you’re just simply there to do your job.

And that job as a judge is to keep the vote fair and your job as a poll watcher is just to check off who came in and then get that back to the campaign.

And here’s a nice aside, if you’re well organized and you have a little bit of funds for it, not a lot, it’s really nice when you send people around as runners or the candidate can go around from poll to poll, and just to say hi to the people out in front before they go in and shake hands, but also go inside with the credentials, poll watcher credentials, and thank the poll watchers.

And as I said, if you have a little bit of money, you can bring donuts and coffee for your election judges and your poll watchers, or at lunch time, have someone drop off some sandwiches and some drinks to your election judges and poll watchers. You don’t need to feed the enemy, let the enemy be jealous that they’re not getting fed. Maybe it creates a little dissension in their ranks. I don’t know, but it was always lovely when a candidate came around, thanked the people, and that the campaign sent something over, so it’s sort of like you’re not forgotten.

And a reminder to, when you thank them, that there’s a party tonight, what time, at the election headquarters, right after the polls close, etc. etc. Think about these people, they’re important. As you’re recruiting volunteers, always ask every volunteer if they can take off work part of election day and give you a few hours on election day. Mornings are key, and if they don’t want to be phone calling, they can be poll watching.

And if they’re seniors, there’s a way they’re not working steadily and they need a job, get them to be an election judge. You know, it’s a couple hundred dollars, $150 that they can make, and it’s gonna help out your campaign and help out the whole process and the whole system.

I hope you got a better idea of what election judges and poll watchers do, what their roles are, and why they’re important to your campaign. Often you can work with other campaigns to make sure that you’re coordinating and sharing poll watchers and election judges. That’s one more way that you can get more out of the few volunteers that you have. You share them and so the checkoff data is going into other people’s systems as well.

And perhaps you’re sharing a database with another campaign, which isn’t a bad idea to short costs that way as well. But it can get a little tricky as far as campaign election laws go. Check that out on how you’re going to report that. But it’s doable, very doable.

Well I hope you had some ideas today from this, and if you have questions, I’m reachable at john@commonwealthy.com. I’m always reachable there. I’m always happy to answer questions.

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I know I was just at CPAC, and there were a lot of people that weren’t aware of it, but they sounded very excited about it. And why not? Half hour, once at week, actually maybe a little longer than a half hour, some of these run almost 50 minutes, on how to run for office and ideas on activism is kinda what us Conservatives is all about. Thanks for listening!

In a perfect situation, you have as many poll watchers as you have precincts. And their job is to sit in the poll and check off the voters that are coming in, so they have a list with them. It can be on paper, but in an ideal world, and you’ve got a good voter system, such as Voter Gravity, you can check off on your smartphone. The list is there, you just click on them when they come in.

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