Secretary of state urges college students to replace aging election judges

Josh Verges

Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer is initiating a program and releasing a recruitment video to attract a new generation of Election Day judges to understaffed precincts across the state.

Kiffmeyer and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits started “Election Judges for Charity” to bring in 1,000 to 2,000 new judges, Kiffmeyer said. The program donates the volunteer judges’ pay to the state nonprofit of each judge’s choice.

“A few hundred dollars really makes a difference to these charities, which usually operate on shoestring budgets,” Kiffmeyer said.

Volunteers come from the nonprofit council’s 1,400 organizations and serve for primary and general elections. Election judges oversee the voting process at polling stations.

Council associate director Sandra Reis said its members are excited about the program, which could bring nonprofits between $300,000 and $600,000.

“Nonprofits are a huge part of civic engagement,” she said. “And they’re always looking to diversify revenue streams.”

Kiffmeyer said the volunteer character of nonprofits make them a good fit as a recruitment tool. She said she expects to continue the plan and hopes a new generation of judges will emerge.

“It will help bring fresh recruits into a very important part of the (civic) process,” she said. Kiffmeyer estimated that 80 percent of judges are more than 60 years old.

“The senior citizens that have served us so well are getting older and passing away,” she said. “I’d love to see more college students in there this year.”

The secretary of state’s office has also put together a recruitment video to attract college students. The office will distribute it in the coming months.

University student Ashley Sierra is among the few on campus with election judge experience. She worked a morning shift in Eagan, Minn., for the 2000 presidential election, earning high school extra credit and $6 per hour.

Although Sierra won’t serve this year, she said the experience was fun and worthwhile.

Kiffmeyer said one problem in getting students to serve is finding them after they sign up. Her office adjusted the registration form to include permanent phone numbers, which she said should help voting precincts hang on to their commitments.

Another concern is that judges must be registered to vote in the county where they serve, Kiffmeyer said. A bill in the Legislature is expected to pass in time to allow registered Minnesota voters to serve in any state precinct. This should make it more convenient for the University’s oft-moving students.

Those interested in becoming an election judge should call their political parties or county auditors before June 1.