BLOOMINGTON — Donnette Holliger has been an election judge in Carlock since the 1990s — when voters used punch cards.

“They were so simple,” she said of the cards.

When the ballot style changed to coloring in ovals, it brought more challenges, Holliger said.

“We’d have (voters marking with) ‘Xs,’” she said. “If you don’t do it right, the (ballot tabulation) machine spits it out.”

Now, voters have two options: the paper ballots with ovals or an electronic touch screen. Older voters seem to prefer paper ballots, Holliger said, while the younger voter is more apt to try — and use — the touch screen.

There are other changes at the polls as well.

This week Holliger and some of the other 354 election judges who will be working at the 71 precincts throughout McLean County on March 20 learned how to negotiate the new electronic poll books that will be used this year. Under the system, voters are checked in through a laptop computer rather than paper forms.

The Bloomington Election Commission implemented the system last year.

“It’s much easier, much faster,” said Robin Norris Wilt, assistant election director for the county clerk’s office. “It’s more accurate and prevents voter fraud.”

Wilt said the computer alerts an election judge if someone who is trying to vote has already cast a ballot at another precinct and won’t let the election judge check the voter in a second time.

County Clerk Kathy Michael said the used laptops were purchased for $18,000. The county used to spend about the same amount each year to provide the paper forms showing information on registered voters.

Holliger doesn’t have a computer at home so learning to work on a laptop was challenging — but not enough to stop her from being an election judge.

“I’ll do check-in when it’s slow so I don’t hold up the line,” she said.

Finding election judges is a big challenge for the BEC and the county clerk’s office.

“We have our core groups,” said BEC Executive Director Paul Shannon. “A couple of years ago, we sent letters to organizations to try to get judges but no one responded. Our primary tool is our judges themselves.”

Election judges have a very long Election Day — starting between 5 and 5:30 a.m. and not ending until 8 p.m. or later. Average pay is $145 for the day. The judges check in voters; verify voters’ signatures; hand out ballots and watch the ballot box.

But their work isn’t finished when the last voter casts a ballot. Before they leave the polls, they have to count the ballots to be sure the total matches the number counted by the ballot box. One Republican judge and one Democratic judge take the ballot box and touch screen back to the Government Center.

“They have to stay until the count is accurate,” Michael said.

The work then shifts to the staff from the BEC, county clerk’s office and information technology department who are responsible for feeding the ballot box memory cards into computers at the Government Center to begin tabulating election results, including those from the electronic touch screens used at McLean County precincts.

The touch screen machine tallies votes but also has a paper tape in lieu of paper ballots for the cross check.

Results will be posted on the respective websites on election night: www.mcleancountyil.gov for results in the county (go to the county clerk’s page and click on election results); and www.becvote.org for city of Bloomington results.

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