The Election Day vote count is a big operation, and in Lewis and Clark County — like many other places — part-time election judges play a huge role in making sure everything runs smoothly.
“It’s just something that I feel strongly that I want to be a part of,” said Pat Rice. “Voting is very important, and to be able to participate is very important.”
Rice is Lewis and Clark County’s oldest election judge this year – just two months away from her 90th birthday. Her first time working as a judge came in 1957 in Missoula, when she was asked to replace her mother after her death. She’s gone on to work on elections when living in Ovando and, since 1998, in Helena.
This year, Rice worked opening envelopes, getting ballots ready to run through tabulating machines and reconciling vote totals. She says being an election judge has been a great way to learn about the process – and to meet new friends.
“The camaraderie is very nice,” she said.
The county’s youngest election judge is 25-year-old Daniel Wendel. He came back to assist with the election after previously spending three years as a full-time Elections Office employee.
“They always need help; they take pretty much everybody that offers,” he said. “I knew that working here, and how much easier it is to have people who know what’s going on.”
This year, he’s helping election administrator Amy Reeves run ballots through the tabulators. He hopes more young people will get involved as election judges.
“The democracy that you have is going to be around for the rest of your life,” he said. “The sooner you know it, the more time you have to be able to understand it.”
Once election judges get hooked, there’s not much that can keep them away.
“When I get to the point that I can’t find my way here,” said Rice. “I said, if you don’t see me, I couldn’t find my way.”