Ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections, Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough warns there could be a crisis if more people don’t step up to help election workers.

“We have a severe shortage of judges and election officials,” Yarbrough said Tuesday, which marked National Voter Registration Day. “The Clerk’s Office handles elections in suburban Cook County and we have seen our number of election judges drop significantly in recent years. Over the past eight years, we have seen a reduction of approximately 40%. »

Yarbrough said about 4,000 people told the clerk’s office they would be available, but 7,000 we need workers.

Yarbrough said the pandemic has hampered his office’s ability to recruit election judges and poll watchers, and many former judges could also retire given the average age is between 65 and 70.

But she says the political climate isn’t helping.

A non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice report published last summer revealed that more and more election officials are facing violent threats and pressure to prioritize partisanship over a fair process, all made more difficult by a workload unsustainable and the spread of misinformation.

David Becker, founder and director of the nonpartisan association Center for Election Research and Innovationco-author with Major Garrett of the book “The Big Truth: Defending Democracy in the Age of the Big Lieout on Tuesday. It’s about the quality of the 2020 election and the risks to democracy posed by former President Donald Trump’s lies.

“And if we get to the point where we can’t believe, or don’t believe, that the elections are valid – that they are fair – despite the fact that we have more secure elections than ever right now, we are in a very dangerous place. for democracy,” Becker said. “We are very clear about the damage that has been done.”

Yarbrough says she is unaware of suburban Cook County judges being harassed.

Becker says with paper ballots, audits and additional judicial oversight, elections are safer, but nationwide lies about the election have led to harassment, abuse and even death threats election officials.

Given that, Becker said he doesn’t blame people for not wanting to serve as election judges or poll watchers. But he says that when there are big elections (and 2020 saw a record turnout of nearly 160 million voters), the system relies on volunteers.

“What I would say is that not only is it worth it, but it’s more crucial than ever, this kind of active citizenship – to go there, to see the process, to learn about the process, to make it easier for your fellow Americans to vote, even if you don’t agree with them,” Becker said. “And then be an evangelist for that process afterward, so we can have a transfer of power peaceful.”

Harriett Holmes worked as an election judge for around 40 years and said if enough people didn’t show up, it made the job difficult.

“It’s a burden when you have a place where you should have five judges and you only have three, and we’re running around trying to get things done – we want things done right, that’s that’s why we signed up to be judges,” Holmes said. “So when we don’t have that, we’re doing double duty. And so we’re looking for people to come out, stand up, serve, do what needs to be made for us to advance democracy and move our world to where we need to go.

Chicago faced a shortage of election judges for the June 28 primary, to the point that some polling places had to delay opening.

Suburban Cook County is trying something new to try to attract recruits to the cause.

The clerk’s office says it will contact veterans’ organizations to ask those who served in the military to perform another patriotic duty.

“These are difficult times for democracy, and members of the veteran community have taken many years of their lives to fight for this democracy, and we ask them to fight again for this democracy by serving the day election,” said Brian Cross, who heads the Registrar’s Office of Veterans Services.

Cook County officials want thousands more judges, even though, under a state law that allows for expanding precinct boundaries, there will be fewer precincts starting this midterm election.

“We’ve reduced the number of precincts to deal with some of the shortages, but it’s still difficult,” deputy election clerk Ed Michalowski said.

Chicago Board of Election spokesman Max Bever said that with precinct consolidation, the city would need 6,450 judges instead of 10,345. Bever said the drop will allow polling places to to be “overstaffed” with six to seven judges, against the typical target of five.

Chicago is close to reaching its goal and has a better chance of recruiting bilingual judges, including those who speak Spanish, Hindi, Chinese, Polish, Korean and Tagalog.

Election judges pay up to $230 and coordinators earn $450, and the board is still accepting applications .

Becker helped create Election Officials Legal Defense Networka non-profit legal advocacy network, to provide pro bono support to election officials and advice on countering disinformation.

Additional funding is among the recommendations of the Brennan Center report. It also recommends that states consider paying for the personal and household security of election workers when warranted. And that states consider making changes to protect election officials from political interference.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @amandavinicky