From hawking hot dogs to handing out ballots

With the average election judge about 70 years old, Minnesota faces a serious shortage of those guarding the vote and administering elections. Two state initiatives designed to solve this dilemma will, at the same time, help fix other problems.

Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer recently announced the Election Judges for Charity program that will allow nonprofit-group members to serve as judges on Election Day and donate their paychecks to their groups. A promising bill in the Legislature, which Kiffmeyer supports, would allow voters registered in one county to serve as election judges in another. These ideas make sense and have only upsides, including for college students.

The bill would allow surplus election judges in one county to fill the need in another. College students would be able to serve near their schools and still vote at home.

The Election Judges for Charity program also addresses the shortage and is a smart way of introducing people to the election system. It gives citizens a unique opportunity to raise money for their groups while performing a service for the state.

Eighty percent of election judges are more than 60 years old or older, Kiffmeyer has said. The Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections, has tried various recruiting methods to bring new blood to the election judge pool, with mixed results. Nonprofit groups, which are consistently successful at recruiting reliable members to work to raise money, provide a large and accessible source of manpower. Many states face the problem of an aging elections staff, but Minnesota is the first to attempt implementing this new idea.

Aside from selling concessions at sporting events, groups can now sign up to monitor voter eligibility, answer questions and hand out ballots, as well as “I voted” stickers. Given that about 30,000 election judges are needed per election and that polls are open up to 16 hours, organizations could collectively raise a seven-figure total at no additional cost to the state. In the words of John Pratt, whose Minnesota Council of Nonprofits will coordinate the volunteers, the Election Judges for Charity program is “a great idea … a perfect combination.”

With the political season heating up, we hope people will pay more attention to the elections process and consider becoming an election judge. These initiatives will make that easier.