Wednesday, June 23, 2021 by Jo Clifton

Parties seek election judges, workers for March

Even though March 2022 seems far away, Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for the March 1 primary elections. Part of that is appointing election judges and other polling place workers. Travis County Democratic Party Chair Katie Naranjo has been emailing Democrats to see if they want to sign up now. The Travis County Republican Party also has a list of workers and is looking for more to work the polls either on election day or during early voting.

As Naranjo explained in her email, “An election judge is an appointed election worker, stationed at the poll location to implement election laws and make voting as accessible as legally possible. As Democrats, we believe your voice is your vote and we know fair, dependable and friendly election judges make voting more accessible to all. We only ask you to put in a day of hard work with pay which can help save democracy for those who need it most.”

The Democrats’ website says, “Election judges for the next two years are being selected now. Every judge the Democratic Party cannot fill, the Republicans will.”

Republicans are no less adamant. Their website says, “Do you want Democrats running our Republican Primary election? Of course not! And we want our general and local elections to be staffed by Republicans, too. You can help us assure bipartisan and fair elections by signing up to be a judge, alternate judge, or clerk! If selected, you’ll even get paid for it.”

State law dictates that each party must send a list of proposed judges and other poll workers to the county Commissioners Court by June 30, so those workers can be appointed in July. Counties that have fewer than 500,000 people can make their appointments in August. Victoria Hinojosa with the Travis County Clerk’s Elections Division said, “The workers we’re working off of now were appointed last summer and the July appointees of this year will be for March 2022.”

Although Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir now runs both primary and general elections, it has not always been that way. DeBeauvoir took over as county clerk in 1987, at a time when each party ran its own primaries. “About 94 I talked the parties into letting me run the elections for them,” she said, adding that it wasn’t easy because the parties had been running their own elections – sometimes badly – for so many years.

Peck Young, a longtime political consultant and retired director of Austin Community College’s Center for Public Policy and Political Studies, explained that the individual parties have selected their own election judges for perhaps a century. When Young went to work for the Travis County Democratic Party in the mid-70s, he said most of the election judges were also precinct chairs. But since precinct chairs are elected, he and his boss, the late Ken Wendler, worked to separate the two functions. Many of the precinct chairs were more interested in being judges than in motivating voters to get to the polls, which is more the job of the precinct chair. Of course, he said, at that time the Democratic primary was the most important election and whoever won it would win the general election.

Both parties are looking for people to work as judges and clerks during early voting as well as on election day. Naranjo and Andy Hogue, spokesman for the Travis County Republican Party, both expressed confidence that they would have enough poll workers and election judges by June 30 for next year’s elections.

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