Not only will Tuesday be Catherine Hamman’s first chance to vote in an election, but it will also be the first election she judges.
The 18-year-old high school senior, along with five classmates from Carbondale Community High School, will be one of the many paid election judges at polling precincts throughout Jackson County on Tuesday. Larry Reinhardt, Jackson County clerk, said most of the vacancies had been reserved for older-aged judges that live in Florida during colder months. This is the first year in decades the Illinois primary has been in February instead of the first Tuesday in March.
Sharon Lorinskas, a German teacher at CCHS, said the students’ responsibilities include crossing off voters’ names, checking for a voter registration card, distributing the proper ballots and making sure the precinct has collected the correct number of ballots.
“The students have been great to work with,” Reinhardt said. “They’re very energetic. They’re very comfortable using the machines; more so even than some of our longer-term judges.”
From previous experience, Reinhardt said a problem with hiring the average high school senior is their inability to work more than one election due to graduation. But an expansion to the program during the past year allowed the inclusion of high school juniors as well as college students, who do not have to be registered voters. The expansion could silence Reinhardt’s concerns.
Aside from being the correct age, students must also have a 3.0 GPA on a four-point scale.
Lorinskas said she made an announcement to her junior and senior students that the county was looking for election judges who would be paid $100 for their service like someone who has been an official for years. The student judges from CCHS will not be charged with an absence since the election is considered a school activity.
Cortni Townsend, a junior at CCHS who will be working the Carbondale voting precinct setup in Grinnell Hall for student residents of Brush Towers, said she plans to mention the judging experience on college applications.
Hamman said her interest in government rubbed off from her father, a political science professor at SIUC. Planning to major in environmental policy, the second semester senior said she hopes to work with the federal government in the future, which will make Tuesday’s experience more valuable to her.
“I would probably do it for free just for the experience, but the $100 doesn’t hurt,” she said.
Students met for a training course Saturday at the Jackson County courthouse in Murphysboro. The course taught the new judges how to check a voter in and troubleshoot potential problems. But despite the thoroughness of her training, Hamman said she is relieved there will be three experienced judges on site.
High school students keeping track of politics and the election are not outcasts like in previous years, Hamman said. In fact, the election is “the new big thing” for her classmates to talk about – especially since it makes them feel a little more sophisticated.
As her excitement for Tuesday builds, Hamman said she hopes not to make an error that could result in ballots to be excluded from the counting.
“You have to know how important it is that you do your job, and what’s at stake,” she said. “The people who realize how important it is, and who won’t goof off and let something slide are the kids who have signed up.”
Daily Egyptian writer Barton Lorimor can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 274 or [email protected]