The 2010 general election is two weeks away. Are you ready to vote?
The Crow Wing County election judges are ready for you. About 500 judges were trained countywide in July, with about 100 of them new to the process, County Auditor Deborah Erickson said.
"This is very exciting for us," said Erickson. "Once they become a judge they usually stay on as a judge because they want to be involved."
This is what happened to Brainerd couples Arlene and John Fitzpatrick and Don and Carol Crust.
Don has been an election judge on and off for the past 30 years and his wife, Carol, has been one for the past 20 years. John, who is now 70, started in his early 20s and did it for about seven years and then quit. He started up again about five years ago, along with Arlene, when he retired as an attorney.
Arlene and John Fitzpatrick (front row) and Don and Carol Crust (back row), both of Brainerd recently stood on the steps at the Historic Courthouse. The two couples are election judges and they take their job seriously.
Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey
The Crusts and Fitzpatricks both said they became election judges because they enjoy the voting process.
"It's fascinating to me," said John. "It's fun to see the people who are involved in running for office and watching the people come to vote and how serious they are about it."
John said he became interested in elections while attending Washington High School in Brainerd and that's why he became an election judge at a young age.
Arlene said she enjoys people and that's why she wanted to be an election judge.
Don said he first became an election judge 30 years ago because he was the Crow Wing Township clerk and the clerk automatically became an election judge.
"I did it on and off through the years because there were times I was too busy to do it," Don said. "It's a real good feeling to observe this level of democracy and to be a part of it."
Don also is interested in the voting process because of his grandfather, Edward Crust, who was a county commissioner in 1919.
Carol said she was involved in a political party at the time when she decided to become an election judge to be more involved.
"Plus I had a great sixth-grade teacher who made me aware of elections," said Carol. "I'll never forget those lessons. We've always been interested in the political process and have been active in it."
John said he also is a head election judge, which means he's responsible for setting up the polling site, assigning jobs for the other election judges, answering voters' questions, resolving any issues that come up and taking the ballot box to the courthouse after the votes have been counted.
John also has been involved with doing a few of the recounts, including the 2008 vote of Sen. Al Franken.
One of the rules of being an election judge is couples or those who are related cannot work in the same precinct together. So the Crusts and the Fitzpatricks work at different precincts.
John has worked at Whittier, Garfield, Lowell and Riverside elementary schools and Arlene has worked at Whittier, Riverside and the Lakes Area Senior Activity Center. The Fitzpatricks are registered to vote at the senior center, where Arlene often times is an election judge so she'll vote there sometime during the polling hours. John votes on the absentee ballots.
Arlene Fitzpatrick (left), Carol Crust, John Fitzpatrick and Don Crust recently shared a laugh talking about stories when they were election judges, while sitting in the Jinx Ferrari Meeting Room on the second floor of the Historic Courthouse that included piles of empty white boxes that will be filled with ballots that will go to the polls on election day.
Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey
Absentee ballots will make Nov. 2's election much easier for judges. Erickson said this year all of the absentee ballots will be counted together at the courthouse because of a new state law. Erickson said beginning at 5 p.m. Friday before the election, staffers can place the ballots into the voting machine, but the results cannot be seen until 8 p.m. on election day.
Not dealing with absentee ballots will help eliminate any extra problems. A few years ago, Carol said there was a problem with the count at the precinct she was at that showed that the machine vote total and voter registration total were off by one. Carol said the judges were there until 1 a.m. trying to figure out what happened. Erickson said the one-vote mistake came when the judges placed an absentee ballot twice into the machine because the ballot got jammed into the machine the first time and it was counted twice.
"They (election judges) get tired and sometimes need a fresh pair of eyes," Erickson said on finding a mistake. "Election judges have an extremely long day. We try to have them set up in shifts to keep everyone more fresh and to help them from getting over tired."
The Fitzpatricks said their election day begins at 5:30 a.m. and they can work through the night until about 11:30 p.m. John said back in the days when the votes were hand counted the nights went into the next morning to around 3-4 a.m.
Election judges have to count the number of voter registration signatures that have to match the number of ballots used that are counted on the voting machine.
Arlene said to help with the long day she said the judges take breaks, such as going for coffee or taking a walk. She said what also works for her and the election judges she works with is they all know each other's interests at the polling site so each judge works in the area they most enjoy. Arlene said she normally is in charge of handling the names of the voters with the last names beginning with M-Z. Arlene said some judges enjoy being the greeters and handling out the "I Voted" stickers and others like to handle the new registered voters.
Carol said all the judges know what needs to be done and judges who have worked together often know who wants to do what and they know what to expect. She said judges also sometimes switch jobs after a few hours to keep them from getting bored.
"It's not a struggle unless there is a good voter turnout," said Don. "Then you're busy all day, but we do take breaks and move around so that helps us from getting bored."
John said, "I'm working on adrenaline all day and that keeps me going."
John said one of the challenges of an election judge is giving people the right to vote, when they can't, such as if they are a convicted felon. John also said when women get married they change their name and sometimes forget that they have to re-register to vote under their new name.
One of the pet peeves Carol has in being an election judge is when a person brings a group of elderly or handicapped people into the polling site and the group is told who to vote for.
"It just peeves me," Carol said. "It's not right that people tell others who to vote for."
Overall, the Fitzpatricks and Crusts are pleased with the voting process. Don said the voting process in the county works well and John Fitzpatrick agreed and said none of the judges ever question the process.
"It's well worth it," Don said on being an election judge.
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