QUINCY -- Election judges are in short supply.
In order to address the shortage, Illinois lawmakers got a proposal Wednesday that would allow county clerks to operate polling places with three election judges instead of the five now considered standard.
"It is a problem finding election judges. The ones we've got are getting older and we're going to need new judges" to take the place of those who can no longer serve, said Cris Cray, director of legislation at the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Adams County Clerk Chuck Venvertloh said to have a full complement for Adams County's 74 precincts, he would need 370 election judges.
"We normally have 250 to 280 election judges working," Venvertloh said.
Names of potential election workers are given to Venvertloh, and other Illinois county clerks, by chairmen of the Democratic and Republican parties. The election judges then are trained to check in arriving voters, verify signatures, watch the ballot box, prevent electioneering and generally make sure the voting place operates smoothly.
"Our judge population is getting older and we're not getting a lot of new, young blood in there," Venvertloh said.
Illinois Legislators have given county clerks the ability to get help from high school students. The helpers must be either juniors or seniors, they have to have grades of B or better and have a reference note from a school principal. They don't have to be 18, the minimum age to become a registered voter.
Venvertloh has a list of 12 student workers who recently helped out with elections.
Sophia Marcolla, a senior at Quincy Notre Dame, recently helped staff the polling place in the Quincy High School fitness room.
"Everybody was busy. I was learning from the people who have been doing it for a while," Marcolla said.
The 17-year-old was motivated in part by her plans to attend the University of Kentucky and major in political science starting this fall. She said working an election is the equivalent of putting her "toes in the water" to see what happens in polling places.
"I think it's very important and I'm trying to get more in my class to get involved," Marcolla said.
Venvertloh said even though the high school helpers are much younger, he often feels like his age makes him stand out in meetings with election judges.
"I'm 51 and when I go to the judge training class, I'm the young one," Venvertloh said.
Missouri election officials have similar problems finding election judges.
Valerie Dornberger, the clerk in Marion County, Mo., has worked at that office since 1985 and has been county clerk for seven years.
"I think it was easier to find election judges when I started," Dornberger said. "A lot of the ladies that were judges were stay-at-home moms."
Now see believes there are more dual-income families, where both adults work outside the home.
Missouri also used to close schools on election days and many teachers would work as election judges during that day off. But schools don't typically close for elections any more.
Missouri also allows teens to help as election judges, but requires them to be 18 and be registered voters.
But Dornberger sees the same trend as Venvertloh, with older election judges.
Chris Hull, 48, is among the younger election judges in Marion County. A U.S. Postal Service clerk, Hull said he has five weeks of vacation and takes election days off to work in the polls.
"I was in the U.S. Navy and ... I just see this as a way to give back," Hull said.
When Hull works at the Prince Baptist Church polling place in Hannibal, he also is helpful when it comes time to put in an aluminum ramp that helps voters gain access to the building.
"I think they may have me there because they needed some muscle," Hull said.
Dornberger said some people she's approached about becoming election judges say they're interested until they have to declare whether they're a Republican or Democrat. Others are not interested in working a 13-hour day while the polls are open. Or they don't think $10 per hour is enough pay.
Venvertloh said his mother and late father, Mary and Tom Venvertloh, were election judges for decades. They only stopped when his father's health made it problematic.
"One of our 90-something-year-old judges said he's been doing this for 50 years. He said he's done," Venvertloh said.
Illinois lawmakers also hope they can remove another election day hurdle this year, by allowing registered voters to cast ballots anywhere in their home county. That will require printers capable of creating ballots that are designed for different precincts.
Marcolla wants to stay involved in the election process, as an election judge and as a voter.
"Until we have 100 percent (voter participation) we've always got more work to do in a democracy," Marcolla said.