In the minute before the clock struck 2:50 p.m. on Nov. 6, there were 10 seconds when no citizens were in a booth marking a General Election ballot. And that was the only time during that 13-hour voting day that the room was empty.
The judges noticed the time because it was the first time since the polls opened that they could take a breath.
Last Tuesday marked the first presidential election after Will County precincts were combined. Wesley lost one of its polling places, so all residents had to vote at the same place during an election that typically has a high voter turnout. The result was that the precinct's five judges were hopping all day long, and the performance was probably repeated in each of the nearby townships whose precincts were consolidated.
Overall, Will County's voter turnout was just over 65 percent. Wilmington Township was a bit below that with 61.12 percent of its 3,912 registered voters at the polls. Florence had a noteworthy 68.77 percent showing and 62.61 percent of Wesley's 1,463 registered voters exercised their right. If that's not a record for Wesley, it's close to it, says election judge Sandy Vasko.
The judges at the Wesley polling place at the First Christian Church in Lakewood Shores processed 853 voters on election day. The Will County Clerk recorded 916 ballots, so some Wesley residents took advantage of early, absentee or provisional voting.
"That meant the judges processed on an average 65 people an hour or more than one a minute." said Vasko. And that includes all of the voters who needed help resolving problems with their voter registration, which in some cases might have taken as long as 20 minutes.
"That's an amazing amount of people five old ladies had to process," Vasko commented.
Two judges were responsible for checking voters' names, addresses and signatures; another distributed the appropriate ballots, a fourth took care of people writing affidavits and a fifth watched the ballot box seeking out spoiled ballots (sending those voters to the gal handling the affidavits so they could correct their ballot) and ensuring all ballots are properly recorded.
The judges could only take short breaks, because they didn't want to leave their posts and make people wait in line to vote.
Admittedly, at the country polling places, an hour could go by without a voter coming in. The precincts had already been combined for last spring's primary, but primaries don't usually have high voter turnout - it wasn't so bad, and the judges were able to take breaks.
"This election, we didn't know what to expect. I don't think anybody did," Vasko said.
After the polls close, the judges have to pack up the equipment, and also have to go through each and every ballot to find any that may have had a write-in candidate. Write-ins were only allowed in the presidential race this election, Vasko said.
When that's done, the optical scan ballot box generates a status report that gives a tally of the number of votes each candidate received in that precinct. A copy is posted on the door and another is signed by all of the judges. The tape is an historical record; it tells that in Wesley Township in 2012, Democrats are the minority, that Larry Walsh didn't win by a very large margin and that state's attorney James Glasgow only won by 20 votes.
Then two judges - one Democrat and one Republican - drive the equipment, signed report and the ballots to Joliet, and stay with them until an official takes possession of them.
"Most people probably don't understand the job election judges do," Vasko said. "When you get a minute and look at all these people exercising their right to vote ... all of them participating in the Democratic process - it's pretty awe inspiring... It's the basis of Democracy, it's really cool."