Working the polls is challenging, rewarding

I made it 63 years without ever volunteering to help out at a polling place. On Nov. 8, I finally rectified that omission.

I’m glad I did.

The view we get of the process as voters suggests the job of election judge might be repetitive, tedious and boring. You check in a voter, direct them to the next station, check in the next voter, send them to the next station. Hand out ballots or “I voted” stickers. Repeat. All day.

Nothing can replace experience for learning the errors of impression.

What I discovered from serving as an election judge is that the process is interesting, intricate, well-documented and secure. There’s a variety of different situations voters can present, such as having moved since the last election, name changes, new registrations and so on. Each situation has its own procedure for making sure people get their records updated and, most importantly, making sure they can vote.

The county provides hands-on and online training plus printed documentation to help poll workers, especially us newbies, know how to deal with the complexities of the system.

Nationwide, we see stories about dysfunction in the election system, with inadequate equipment, too few polling places, long lines, short tempers and tense situations. It didn’t look like that here.

My experience only includes one Election Day in one polling place, but for what it’s worth, the system worked well. In spite of a few technical glitches, everybody who wanted to vote got to vote. People were both eager to cast their ballots and patient with short delays.

Another cool thing about the day was the opportunity to work with four other election judges, three of whom I hadn’t met before. The day was long (more than 15 hours from set up to close up) but everyone worked hard to make things work for voters and to support each other.

It’s also very satisfying to know that you’ve played a role, however small, in keeping democracy humming along.

We hear reports that there have been chronic shortages of poll workers in recent years. That’s a problem we can solve. I urge everyone who can get a day off on Election Day to give it try.

Engaging with development projects
Homewood and Flossmoor regularly have new development projects that are at various stages of the process, from planning to permits to construction. Large projects often generate significant concern among residents, even organized opposition, but even smaller projects often provoke questions and reservations.

Development projects bring change, and people worry about the impact those changes will have on their lives.

I’ve watched quite a few projects go through the process while covering local government over the years. When residents resist projects, there are often a range of concerns about the specifics, but what seems common across different projects in different communities is a feeling that projects are something being “done to us” rather than “done with us.”

Required public hearings don’t always make a dent in that feeling, because by the time a project gets to that stage, the major decisions have been made, and it usually seems very difficult for residents to have much influence.

There are ways to get residents involved earlier and give them more say in how developments are shaped. City Bureau Chicago has published a useful guide to community benefits agreements and their alternatives.

It’s available online at citybureau.org/cba but City Bureau also offers to mail print copies on request.

City Bureau describes itself as a “journalism lab reimagining local media … by equipping people with skills and resources, engaging in critical public conversations and producing information that directly addresses people’s needs.” Its work, and the CBA guide, are focused on Chicago, but the approaches it describes could be adapted to the South Suburbs.

I recommend giving the guide a look. Economic development will, I hope, continue in our community, because without it we risk stagnation, but how development happens and who is involved in the process matters.

Stay informed: Free newsletter
The Chronicle has developed a weekly online newsletter over the past year called The Weeks. Each new edition is published on Sunday. The name refers to the format, which includes a look at the week ahead, including the place and time of local government meetings and community events, and it takes a look back at the Chronicle’s top stories from the previous week along with briefs on local, regional and national news that affects our community.

We also usually highlight cases of local democracy in action.

The purpose of The Weeks is to fulfill our mission of helping readers stay informed and engaged with what’s going on in the community. I sometimes see comments on local social media pages where someone asks about what business is going into some building, or what is the village doing about a certain problem. Quite often, the answer could be found in recent Chronicle coverage.

I am thoroughly biased in this regard, but I think subscribers to our website are the best informed members of the community, not only because they have immediate access to the whole story but because their financial support helps us report more and in greater depth on matters that matter.

But not everyone can or will subscribe, and that should not be a barrier to being informed. Our monthly print edition helps. Our daily headlines email helps. I think The Weeks will help. And it’s free.

To subscribe, visit hfchronicle.com/news-by-email/.

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