From Books to Ballots: A New Generation Stepping Up

Q/A with Student Election Judges, Political Action Club sponsor


Mikayla Varghese ’21 (far right) and other election judges show their enthusiasm on the job. Even though their job lasts many hours on Election Day, election judges are excited to take on the challenge. Courtesy of Varghese.

Making sure that her mask was fitted correctly on her face, Mikayla Varghese ’21 entered the doors to the Willow Grove school gym, which was filled with tables separated by Plexiglass. Finding a seat at one of them, she prepared her mind for the task set before her; not the ACT or SAT, but simply lots and lots of counting. 

For nearly 20 years, over 700 Stevenson students have worked as election judges, but this Election Day they were needed more than ever. According to NPR, given the COVID-19 pandemic, many senior citizens who usually work at polling places during election season chose not to out of safety concerns because of the pandemic. In response, government teachers such as Andrew Conneen have have encouraged their students to fill in. 

Here is what Conneen has to say about his recruiting and involvement:  

Q: Why do you promote being an election judge to your students? 

Conneen: “It’s one of the coolest things we do at Stevenson. It is a way for our students to be engaged even if they are not eligible voters because they just have to be at least 16 years old and a US citizen to be an election judge. It’s a way to make a difference in elections, to make sure the elections are running smoothly and fairly. No one is more competent as an election judge in Lake County than a 17 or 18 year old who knows the rules are on their side.”

Q: Have you had any experience being involved in polling places?

Conneen: “Every year I visit students, yesterday I visited almost 40 of our students at almost 20 different locations in Southern Lake County, so I get to see and check in with them, make sure everything is going smoothly. Sometimes there’s some problems that student judges have to sort out, that’s not uncommon, and it’s amazing to see our students rise to the occasion and take leadership even in a room full of adults. Yesterday [Nov. 3], Sodexo and Student Activities helped us put together snack bags for our student election judges, so I got to deliver snack bags to our student judges in their polling locations.” 

Q: What training goes into the process of being an election judge and how do you view the students who take on the position?

Conneen: “We had 47 students and did a socially distanced training back in September in the sports center, led by the Lake County’s clerk’s office. So part of that is regular, we invite students to be election judges, it is not for everybody. It is a long day, you have to get there by 5:15 in the morning and you have to stay there until everything checks out, sometimes till 8:00 p.m. It is a long day, you do get paid, but it is exhausting. But I find that students are excited for the challenge, they are excited for the opportunity.”

Anything else to add?

Conneen: “One of the coolest things I’ve witnessed is our multilingual students helping our adult voters, these new citizens voting for the first time, helping to make them feel more comfortable with that first time of voting in the US. And as a teacher it is one of the most rewarding things I’ve observed in my teaching career.” 


Mikayla Varghese ’21 (far right) and other election judges show their enthusiasm on the job. Even though their job lasts many hours on Election Day, election judges are excited to take on the challenge. Courtesy of Varghese.

Here is what three student election judges have to say about why they chose to take on the challenge, how the experience was, and what they took away from it in the end:

Q: Why did you become an election judge this year, what sparked your interest? 

Mia Korsunsky ’22 (worked at Peterson Park polling place in Vernon Hills): “So I think it can be really frustrating for somebody under 18 or somebody that is not eligible to vote, when you see that politics has become some ingrained in our lifestyle but you can’t really do anything about it. Personally, election judging was a way for me to contribute and a way to participate in an election in some sort of way even though I couldn’t vote yet.” 

Priya Vontikommu ’21 (Worked at polling place in Long Grove): “So I actually heard it from my AP Government class, my AP Government teacher [Greg Sherwin] asked if any of us were interested in signing up, so I think that sparked my interest, especially after he described what we would be doing. I haven’t voted yet since I’m not old enough to, but I just wanted to see the behind the scenes of how voting works.” 

Varghese: “It was cool to be involved in a process that echoed the kind of things that I wanted to see myself doing at some point in my life. So that was part of it, and the Student Council also tried to push becoming election judges within our own club. Of the officers, four of the seven of us became judges. I think that the two sides were both educationally/career-oriented and club-oriented.”

Q: Do you feel safe doing the job given the pandemic, explain, what is protocol? 

Korsunsky: “The location that I was working at was masks required or some sort of face covering required. Personally, I took a lot of precautions, I was wearing double masks, like the N95s, and I had gloves on the whole time from start to finish. And most of the time it was ok, there were two different sections, a registration section where you get ballots out. The registration was behind plexiglass but we were not, which was kind of interesting, and pretty much everyone was wearing a mask.” 

Vontikommu: “It was definitely safe, everyone wore a mask, even the people voting and we had a face shield in front of the computer, so as we were talking to voters, we were protected by the screen. We were also given the option to wear gloves if we wanted to. Everything was non contact, it was really safe”

Varghese: “The Lake County Clerk’s Office did a really good job of making sure that we keep up to the regulations, whether that be like putting hand sanitizer or having wipes at every table. I served as a check-in judge, and I had my whole body behind Plexiglas, so I didn’t really have to touch or go near anyone.”  

Q: What was the experience of Election Day like? 

Korsunsky: “We had upwards of 10,000 people early vote in the first two weeks in my locations but on Election Day we only had about 200 people, so it was pretty slow, this was from 6 a.m to 7 p.m. There was a lot of confusion between early voting and Election Day voting. For example, early voting there is a lot less location so a lot more precincts go to places like the location I was in. But on actual Election Day there was quite a bit of confusion about that. There is a lot of misinformation on sites like and many people said ‘Oh, I looked up my address and information and they told me to come here’ and that wasn’t the case.”

Vontikommu: “I think it was a little different than normal years mostly because there was less in person voting because of mail in ballots and early voting. We had 300 voters, which was way less than normal according to the people I talked to. There were some moments when there was a lot of people but I really expected it to be like the scenes you see on the news, with a lot of angry people there, but everyone was really nice.”

Varghese: “We got there at five in the morning and set up, turned on poll books (electronic counting machine), and made sure that the tables were in proper columns for social distancing. From there I was the checking judge — I judged people’s names, their addresses, made sure that they were registered to vote, and then I took them to the table where they would get their ballot administered.”

Q: Based on your experience, has your confidence in the electoral process increased? 

Korsunsky: “I definitely think I am a lot more knowledgeable about the process, there were a lot of things I got to learn that I didn’t know before since I am not 18 yet. There were a lot of things I got to understand better. Overall even though each state has its own system, what we saw in Illinois in our area worked pretty well.”

Vontikommu: “Yeah, it definitely has, you hear a lot about voting, stuff that happens on the news. I think that some people just don’t know how long the process takes, and they expect it to be done really quickly. So I’m definitely less skeptical about the process itself. We went through the process and saw how many precautions are in place to make sure that every ballot is counted.”

Varghese: “I really do think that if anything it gave me perspective on the merits of having a fair vote, where, personally I had to keep people who were electioneering out of the building and exploiting candidates, out of the space. Knowing that there are regulations nationwide, we’re still trying our best to prevent electioneering. We’re trying our best to prevent bias in our voting system and I think that gave me hope.”