Minnesotans flock to help the election

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) âÄî ItâÄôs a job with long hours for little pay. Nevertheless, records numbers of Minnesotans have signed up to help keep the wheels of democracy turning by serving as election judges. In previous elections, it was hard to recruit enough people for the unglamorous but essential job of staffing polling places and counting the votes. Even though the state needs about 30,000 judges to run the 2008 election, some communities have turned volunteers away. âÄúThatâÄôs never happened before,âÄù Joe Mansky, Ramsey CountyâÄôs election manager said of the surplus of people who stepped forward to fill 1,150 election judge slots in St. Paul. They werenâÄôt dissuaded by the countyâÄôs requirement that they work full 16-hour days. Mansky had so many applicants that he put the extra names on a waiting list. Minneapolis elections director Cindy Reichert also had more than enough applicants for the 1,800 judges she needs Tuesday. âÄúWeâÄôve turned away at least 400. ThatâÄôs more than weâÄôve ever turned away in the past,âÄù she said. A more diverse pool of people are volunteering, officials say. ItâÄôs not just retirees this year. More working-age adults, college and high school students, people of color and bilingual residents have stepped forward. Excitement over this yearâÄôs election and initiatives by some employers and schools are helping to drive the trend. âÄúThereâÄôs a lot riding on this election, and I want to be a part of the process,âÄù said Barbara Gavin, 43, a first-time election judge from Maplewood. Disputed vote counts in the 2000 presidential election also have made people less likely to take the traditionally anonymous election judge for granted. âÄúEver since Florida, the election process is more visible,âÄù Mansky said. âÄúItâÄôs important that everyone get a chance to vote. ItâÄôs really important that the elections are properly run,âÄù said Roger Maulik, a St. Paul retiree and first-time election judge. Target Corp. is encouraging employees to serve as judges. Winona State University has a program to recruit about 100 college students for the job, funded with a $30,000 federal grant. âÄúMore and more people understand it takes a village to run an election,âÄù Reichert said. For many volunteers, itâÄôs an act of patriotism. âÄúYou feel kind of useful. You feel like youâÄôre doing your civic duty on Election Day,âÄù said Eric Bergstron, 34, of St. Paul, who first served as an election judge in 2001. âÄúItâÄôs the next best thing to voting,âÄù said Amy Hodges, a 17-year-old from Forest Lake who will be an election judge this year along with her mother. In the metro area, election judges are paid $8 to $15 an hour, depending on the city and the job they do. But about 6 percent to 7 percent of St. Paul election judges opt to do the job for free, Mansky said. âÄúTheyâÄôre not doing it for the money. LetâÄôs face it, there are a lot easier ways to make $8 an hour,âÄù he said. A state law requires employers to give workers who want to serve as election judges time off without loss of wages as long as the employers receive 20 days prior written notice. Some election officials indicate that not a lot of people know about that law or take advantage of it. First-time election judge Timikia Scott, 30, of St. Paul, didnâÄôt know she could get paid time off from her job at U.S. Bank to be an election judge. She said she took a vacation day to attend a training session and will take another vacation day Tuesday to work at a polling place. âÄúMy friend thought it was only retired people who do it,âÄù she said. âÄúThis is huge. I want to be a part of it.âÄù