Montana counties training election judges ahead of June primary

Election Judge Training
Posted at 7:20 PM, Apr 25, 2024

HELENA — Montana’s primary election is coming up June 4. That means county election officials across Montana are working to make sure they have the election judges they need to staff polling places this year.

In Lewis and Clark County, leaders say they’ve seen a lot of people interested in going through election judge training.

“There are few jobs as critical to democracy as the job of election judge, and I thank you all for being here,” county election supervisor Connor Fitzpatrick told attendees at a training session in Helena Wednesday.

About 100 people were on hand Wednesday, and Fitzpatrick said even more took part in a session on Tuesday.

“I love that turnout – a lot of people that are returning, thankfully, and a lot of people that are new and interested in the process,” he said. “I'm happy to see both those people.”

One of the first-time attendees was Chiko Olson, who describes herself as “election-curious.” She said she’s long had questions about how the election system works, and she decided this was a good way to better understand it.

“If you want to make change – positive change – you've got to put yourself into there, you have to get educated, you have to do the things that are not comfortable for you, and then you can start making wiser decisions based on what you get,” said Olson.

Election judges must be at least 18 and registered to vote in the county they work in. They can’t be a candidate or close relative of a candidate on the ballot in their precinct.

At Wednesday’s session, prospective judges got a three-hour introduction to topics like setting up a polling place, handling ballots and helping voters through the process.

Fitzpatrick said this year’s primary will bring some extra complications for judges to deal with. After the 10-year redistricting cycle, counties have redrawn their precincts, so voters may end up at the wrong polling places. Because three political parties are having active primaries – four in the western congressional district – voters will have to receive and choose between more party ballots. In addition, all counties, cities and towns in Montana are holding votes on potential local government reviews, meaning some precincts will have to issue different ballots to voters who live inside and outside municipal boundaries.

“For elections across the board, there are a lot of moving parts,” said Fitzpatrick.

Lewis and Clark County is set to hold two more training sessions: Saturday, April 27, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., and Wednesday, May 1, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Fitzpatrick said, if you’re interested in participating, you can contact the elections office at (406) 447-8338.

Fitzpatrick said, if they’re fully staffed, they’ll have around 400 judge shifts available on Election Day, and he’s optimistic they can fill those.

In Broadwater County, leaders held their training event last Friday. County election administrator Angie Paulsen said they had 21 people attend – fewer than the 29 she had anticipated. She said she hopes to have 40 judges trained, and she’ll likely hold another training session later on.

Paulsen said she’s heard some people are intimidated by the long hours election judges work. She said one thing that shouldn’t be a barrier is being new to the process.

“We have a lot of tools at your fingertips,” she said. "Our Montana clerk and recorders’ association created some videos this go-around to train each judge on exactly their duty the day of; I also provide pamphlets. So you are well educated, you're well informed going into it – and also there are election judges who have been doing this for years and will be there to help you.”

Paulsen said the county will be working to get the word out a variety of ways that they’re still looking for more judges.

“It's a really exciting opportunity to serve your county and to make sure that you know from beginning to end that people's votes do count and their voices matter,” she said.

If you’re interested in becoming an election judge, you can reach out directly to your county’s elections office. Their contact information is available on the Montana Secretary of State’s website.