It does pay a few bucks, but Sally Hollis says a lot of folks serve as Election Day judges out of pure and simple patriotism.
“I have one person who has never taken a paycheck,” said Hollis, who oversees elections in Butte-Silver Bow County and is once again looking for judges. “He says, ‘No. It’s my duty. I’m here to serve.’ Another person, I sent her a check and she brought it back in.”
With Montana’s June 5 primary just around the corner and another general election coming in November, Hollis — Butte-Silver Bow’s clerk and recorder — is trying to recruit more than 100 judges to ensure that voting on those days goes smoothly and by the book.
Prospective judges have to attend one training session that takes about 90 minutes, and Hollis has scheduled six to choose from in the coming days, all conducted in council chambers at the courthouse.
The first two are Tuesday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. with two more Wednesday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. The last two are on Monday, April 23, at 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Judges make sure voters sign in and are recorded properly in poll books, among other things — all of which is covered in the training sessions. Judges manuals will be available at the sessions, too.
The training and election-day duties pay $9.50 an hour, $10 for chief judges, and judges will work at one of several voting locations including the Civic Center, Rocker, Ramsay, and Melrose. Those who drive to the rural locations will be paid for mileage.
All election judges who were trained in the spring of 2016 do not have to fill out an employment form. Any new judge will need to bring their driver’s license and Social Security card or passport to the training session to sign up.
Hollis said she’s waited until May in past election years to conduct training.
“Then I always scrambled,” she said. “I don’t want to do that anymore.”
There’s something else new this year.
The county just purchased a new $110,000, top-of-the-line voting machine from Election Systems & Software, a company based in Omaha, Nebraska, that provides voting equipment and services for many cities and states.
The county had numerous older machines that tabulated votes at the Civic Center on election nights. They were efficient and accurate, Hollis said, but were 10 years old and started having problems.
“The general election (in 2016), they started breaking down,” she said. “The special election, they were a nightmare.”
The special election was held last May to fill Montana’s U.S. House seat that was vacated when Ryan Zinke became secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Republican Greg Gianforte won the special election.
Hollis said the new machine can count 300 ballots per minute and will do the work of all the previous ones. It should last two decades or longer, she said.
Montana law requires counties to have backup machines during elections, so the company is lending a second one to Butte-Silver Bow for the primary.
Hollis is requesting money for a second machine in the county budget that will be crafted in the coming weeks.