Karen Yarbrough

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, whose office runs elections in suburban Cook County, is calling on military veterans to sign up as election judges and poll workers in the Nov. 8 Gubernatorial Election. 

“We have a serious shortage of judges and poll workers,” Clerk Yarbrough said during a press conference on Sept. 20. “We’ve seen our number of election judges shrink significantly in recent years.” 

Yarbrough said the number of poll workers has fallen by 40 percent over the last eight years. She said she has about 4,000 people who have indicated their availability to work on Election Day but she needs at least 7,000 to cover every open position. 

Polling place technicians make $365 and election judges make $200 for their day-long service. Anyone interested in working the polls can apply at cookcountyclerk.com/work. 

Yarbrough explained that the pandemic and age are contributing to the reduction in polling workers in suburban Cook County. She said the average election judge is between 65 and 70 years old. 

The clerk said 4,500 election judges showed up for service on Election Day in June compared to more than 7,100 judges who worked on Election Day in the 2018 midterm election — the last midterm before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She said the dearth of election workers is a problem across the nation, before pointing out that “an estimated 130,000 poll workers have stopped serving over the past three midterm elections across the nation.” 

Yarbrough said the idea to reach out to veterans came after she realized just how much the county clerk’s office interacts with them through the Veterans Service Office in Chicago. 

“These are tough times for democracy and those in the veterans’ community took many years out of their lives to fight for this democracy and we’re asking you to fight for this democracy again by serving on Election Day,” said Brian Cross, the head of the Veterans Service Office. 

Ed Michalowski, the deputy clerk of elections, said while the clerk’s office saw about 70 percent of voters cast their ballots before Election Day by voting early or through the mail in the 2020 General Election and 2021 Consolidated Election, Election Day operations are still important. 

He said the clerk’s office has reduced the number of precincts to keep up with worker shortages, but they still need to meet their goal of more than 7,100 workers to avoid overloading existing poll workers. 

“If there’s one person in a precinct, we’re putting a heavy weight of democracy on their shoulders,” Michalowski said.