Historic election sparks interest from students

This year’s historic presidential election captured not only the interest of Republicans and Democrats alike but also 1,800 high school students who served as election judges for the primary and general elections. Last year a total of 900 students w

This year’s historic presidential election captured not only the interest of Republicans and Democrats alike but also 1,800 high school students who served as election judges for the primary and general elections.

Last year, a total of 900 students worked as judges for the elections but Cook County Clerk David Orr said this year’s surge was attributed to Sen. Barack Obama, who was elected Tuesday as the nation’s first Black president.

Students received four hours of training prior to the election and were paid $120 just as the rest of the judges and worked a minimum of 12 hours. Students who completed the training class received an additional $50.

Since 2000, students have been participating in Chicago and suburban elections as judges thanks to support from the Cook County Clerk’s Office and Mikva Challenge, a Chicago-based, non-profit organization that coordinated the program through its Student Judge Project.

This year, high school juniors and seniors from over 50 schools learned about the voting process by serving as election judges and helping to run an actual polling place during the primary and general elections, said Brian Brady, executive director of Mikva Challenge.

Antonio Solsberry, 18, a senior at Hales Franciscan College Preparatory high school on the South Side, served as a student judge last year and this year.

“It was a good experience because I got to see how the political process works and how leaders are chosen,” he said. “Working with the public can be scary at times because you don’t know what mood people will be in when they get to the polls, but I have learned if you are patient and polite, that usually calms them down.”

This election was especially memorable to Solsberry because he voted for the first time.

“I knew who I wanted to vote for when it came to president and Cook County State’s Attorney because I had done my homework on those races,” Solsberry said. “But it was another story when it came to selecting judges. I don’t think judges should be elected by the public because not enough is known about them and it’s hard to find information on the Internet about judges.”

Tracie Smith, 16, a junior at Marshall High School on the West Side, was a judge for the first time this year.

“The voting process is very interesting. To see people come to the polls so early in the morning just to cast their vote inspired me to do more as an American citizen,” she said. “People were jumping up and down for joy after casting their ballots because they said they were now a part of history. That will be a good feeling come 20 years from now when my children are reading about the nation’s first Black president and I can tell them I was there.”

On the North Side at Walter Payton College Preparatory high school, 17-year-old Spencer Brown, a senior, said he was just glad to earn some community service hours so he can graduate in May.

“Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed what I did and I feel good about it too. But I am more excited about graduating and attending college so I can someday be president of the United States like Barack Obama.”

Student judges have the same responsibilities, duties and authorities as other election judges, including setting up voting equipment at 5 a.m. on Election Day; conducting a fair and impartial election in the precinct polling place from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and tabulating the vote totals for the precinct after the polls close at 7 p.m.

A student judge is one of the officials responsible for the conduct of the election at the precinct polling place. Election judges are the backbone of the electoral process and the job is challenging, interesting and a personally rewarding experience for students, said Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners.

And in order for a high school student to qualify as an Election Judge, they must:

*Be a junior or senior in high school in good standing *Have a grade point average of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale *Be a U.S. citizen by Election Day *Be able to speak, read and write the English language *Successfully complete a 4-hour training session *Be able to work on Election Day beginning at 5:30 a.m. until all duties are completed after the polls close *Be recommended by their principal and a parent or guardian

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