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What is an Election Judge?

Election judges oversee voting operations at local precincts, ensuring that election laws and procedures are being followed.
Election judges may handle same-day registration in some states, along with provisional ballots.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
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In the United States, an election judge is an official who oversees voting at local precincts. Election judges are also known as poll workers, elections officers, elections inspectors, or polling staff, and they are primarily responsible for ensuring that everyone who is eligible to vote at a polling station is able to do so. Requirements for serving as an election judge vary from state to state. Many nations have some form of the election judge in their electoral system, to ensure that their citizens are able to vote freely on election day.

As a general rule, someone is eligible to be an election judge if he or she is an American citizen of legal voting age who is not related to any of the candidates in the election. You are also not allowed to serve as an election judge if you are standing for election, or if you are related to or affiliated with other election judges in the voting precinct. A Democratic Club, for example, cannot staff an entire precinct with election judges. The ability to communicate in English is also a requirement, although some districts may seek out bilingual election judges to serve voters who cannot communicate well in English.

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Election judges attend several training classes to learn about their responsibilities. On election day, they set up the polling place, check in voters, and show people how to use voting equipment. They may also handle same-day registration in some states, along with provisional ballots and challenges. Election judges must also keep an eye on conduct in the voting place to ensure that no one is discriminated against or pressured to vote in a particular way, and they protect the integrity of the polling place, ballots, and voting machines.

Depending on the state, election judges may be appointed by any number of officials, ranging from county clerks to the state. They may be partisan or non-partisan, although partisan judges are not allowed to express partisanship, and in some areas, they are paid for their work as election judges. Many states rely on volunteers who are willing to serve as election judges, with notices about the need for judges in upcoming elections being distributed to voters along with information about how to apply.

If you want to serve as an election judge, be prepared for long hours. You need to show up before the polling place opens, and you will typically leave at least an hour after the polls close. A break for lunch is usually built into the schedule, but it can still be grueling. You are also required to attend orientation classes, which may require travel to your county seat, and if you want to serve as an election judge in future elections, you may be asked to attend additional classes to learn about new regulations and equipment.

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