Students help run primaries

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 | 10:51 p.m. CDT
Election judge Michael Lombardo explains the electronic voting machine to June Hurdle before she casts her vote at Woodcrest Chapel on Tuesday afternoon.

COLUMBIA - It's quarter till 1 in the afternoon, and first-time election judge Michael Lombardo is at Woodcrest Chapel. He taps his Nikes to the tunes on his iPod and watches electioneers sweat in the parking lot. Fellow poll workers Larry Oelger and David Mallory chat about old cars, Steak 'n' Shake and flip through an album of photos of another judge's nephew.

"It's been pretty slow," Lombardo, 18, said of his day so far, which started when he woke at 3:45 a.m.

"The girl at the laptop brought candy, though," he added with a smile.

His co-workers agreed with his comment about the day's pace, but the time was passing merrily.

"We have a great team," Mallory said, also smiling.

Lombardo was one of more than 100 college students helping out at the polls on Election Day, thanks in part to a federal grant to MU that helped recruit them. Lombardo said Sunday that his biggest concern about the day's work was "not screwing up," but things seem to be going smoothly.

He is attentive, pulling out his earphones at the first sign of a voter stepping through the church's glass doors. If anyone has a last name beginning with S through Z, he's ready to check their ID, find their name in the list of voters assigned to that polling place and have them certify with initials and signature that they've been there that day.

Lombardo said after the polls had closed that he learned a lot about the voting process while working the registration desk.

"Boone County is trying hard to protect the rights of voters. The process makes sure people can't cheat," he said. "It's tougher on the workers, but it makes everything fair."

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The election judge supervisor suddenly evokes a brief moment of panic, alerting Lombardo and the other two judges at the front table that "we're off."

He means the number of ballots counted and the number of voters in the registration books don't match up. The three scour their notebooks, searching for a discrepancy. Oelger spots a voter he forgot to record, and the group calms down.

Lombardo said he was a bit nervous about the numbers but glad the workers checked them frequently throughout the day.

"If the numbers stayed off and they didn't find the mistake, we'd be screwed," he said. "We would have to work late trying to balance everything."

Although he described the day as "not that exciting," he's thankful for the right that voters are exercising.

"I'm glad I live in a country that has a democracy," he said. "It's important, and I appreciate it."

Lombardo graduated in May from Rock Bridge High School, where he played on the soccer team. He plans to start at MU as an engineering major this fall.

He decided to serve as an election judge after his father, a chemical engineering professor at MU, forwarded him a mass student e-mail advertising the need for workers.

"It sounded like good money," he said of the $120 he'd pick up for about 15 hours of work.

In addition to checking voters in at the registration table, Lombardo handed out ballots and worked the electronic voting machine: iVotronic. He said that was his favorite job.

"It was the most interesting. I explained to people how to use it, then I got to sit back down."

Lombardo was not involved in politics in high school and doesn't plan to be politically active in college. But he does plan to continue voting.

"It's a freedom we have that we should take advantage of," he said.

After working morning, noon and into the night, Lombardo said it was good to see things from the perspective of seasoned election judges.

"I learned what people who work the polls go through, and I really respect them," he said. "They really appreciate our rights and freedoms, and they volunteer their time."

As for working the polls in the future, he's unsure.

"It was brutal," Lombardo said. "It was a long day but definitely worth the experience to do it at least once."


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