Editorial: Cut the number of judges in primary elections

  • The Illinois Senate will consider legislation approved by the House to reduce to three the number of judges required at polling places during primary elections.

    The Illinois Senate will consider legislation approved by the House to reduce to three the number of judges required at polling places during primary elections. Daily Herald File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

If you never noticed that your precinct had five election judges sitting there for a primary election, it may be because you were among the 85 percent of voters who didn't vote in the 2012 primary. Or the 81 percent who didn't vote in the 2014 primary. Or the 77 percent who didn't vote in the 2010 primary.

A few days ago, the Illinois House did something sensible. Recognizing the relatively low turnout in most primary elections (2008 and 2016 were notable exceptions), it passed a bill saying polling places need have only three election judges on hand for primary elections, not five.

One imagines there are precincts in Illinois where the judges have outnumbered the primary voters at one time or another.

This is a simple fix to an archaic system. Counties often have a hard time finding judges, and they come at a surprisingly high cost. In Kane County, Clerk John Cunningham said House Bill 539, once law, could save his county up to $100,000, "with little to no impact on the county's ability to conduct an election."

Multiply that $100,000 by 102 counties in Illinois, and suddenly we're talking real money. As Cunningham also points out, it'll save the state money too -- since the State Board of Elections reimburses local election authorities a portion of their costs for the judges.

Making elections less expensive without affecting the fairness and openness of the process is simple, good government.

We wish the bill a speedy approval in the Illinois Senate, where state Sen. Linda Holmes has agreed to sponsor it and it will need 30 votes for passage.

If you need proof that the polls can manage with fewer judges, look no further than our own consolidated local elections, like the one we had last month.

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Unlike primaries, the law requires just three judges for for these local elections and that hasn't hurt the conduct of them. Three judges can handle the traffic, keep the line moving and take care of problems. Nor do voters spend appreciably more time at the polling place than they would with five judges present.

If the bill becomes law, the reduction in judges will take effect for the next primary -- the gubernatorial one -- on March 20, 2018.

Moreover, we hope the effort doesn't stop here. Illinois should continue to looks for ways to modernize its voting system, ways that encourage voting and are as inclusive as possible.

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