CAIR-Chicago Celebrates College Student Election Judge Program

A recent report released in late September 2015 reveals that college students participating as judges in recent elections boosted voter access and polling efficiency. As one of dozens of organizations that joined a coalition led by the Voting Rights Project at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, CAIR-Chicago assisted with recruiting area university students. The Voting Rights Project released the report, Student Leaders in Elections, detailing and evaluating a college student poll worker recruitment program of the same name. With over 1,500 college students having served as poll workers in the City of Chicago one or more times in the 2014 general and two 2015 municipal elections, it was one of the largest programs of its kind in the country.

The report finds that students from demographics with traditionally low voter turnout were actually more engaged than their peers in the program. For example:

  • Community college students (as opposed to 4 year college students) were more likely to serve as a poll worker a second time;
  • The precincts that had students serving in them transmitted results at the end of the night up to 9 minutes faster (a 32% improvement). This supports the previously untested hypothesis that students might help improve efficiency on technical tasks because they grew up using modern technology.

The report also finds that, as hypothesized by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, students were able to improve efficiency at their polling places. Using a difference in differences analysis with over 2,000 precincts and data from 2012, 2014 and 2015, the report shows that precincts with students transmitted election results 32% faster, on average, than those without.

As a result of the program and report, the Chicago Board of Elections will expand its college student poll worker program in 2016, and has already implemented some of the report's recommendations to improve administration of the program.

“CAIR-Chicago envisions our elections and polling sites to be efficient and equitable to all voters”, says Gerald Hankerson, CAIR-Chicago’s Outreach Coordinator. “All jurisdictions and communities should encourage young adults to not only witness this sacred democratic process but to actively engage and ensure fair, open and accessible voting accommodations. Indeed, this can be norm instead of random and selective for a portion of our constituency. We plan to continue working with the Voting Rights Project and any elections board to make measures permanent for all elections.”

The full report (PDF) also shares more findings on recruitment strategy, civic engagement, and program impact. You can also read the report summary on the Voting Rights Project website.