Denver Government

Ten Things You Should Know About the People Counting Votes in Denver

Election judges in Denver say the work is fun.
Election judges in Denver say the work is fun. Courtesy of Denver Elections Division
The most important municipal election in over a decade will take place on April 4, when voters select a successor to term-limited Mayor Michael Hancock. Seventeen candidates are vying to replace him, while district and at-large seats on Denver City Council are also up for grabs, as are a variety of important elected positions.

Denver, like the rest of Colorado's counties, has an all-mail ballot system. But once those ballots are sent back or dropped into a box, humans take it from there. Hundreds of them.

Here are ten things you should know about Denver's election judges:

Judges swear by the validity of vote counting

The election judges who count votes want the public to know that they've never witnessed any funny business in tabulation and that the vote-counting process is secure.

"It’s helped me to understand, especially in this age of everybody talking about how elections are not secure and all this other kind of nonsense. I know from watching the elections at Denver Elections how secure the elections are," says Eileen O'Brien, who works as a supervisor at the Highland Recreation Center Voter Service and Polling Center during elections.

And Mitzi Miyoshi, who counts overseas and military ballots, insists there's no way election fraud can happen in Denver, given all the checks and double checks. "It's a very organized, efficient and secure process," Miyoshi says.

The job isn't full-time

Working as an election judge in Denver is very much a part-time job. While the hours are usually full-time (or more) right around the election, after the count is concluded, the job is over until the next election.

The part-time nature of the work is one reason that so few young people work as election judges.

"It’s temporary work, and I think younger people, a lot of younger people, have full-time jobs, so they can’t do something like this," Miyoshi says. "I think that’s why it appeals to people who are either retired or semi-retired or have a part-time job where there’s flexibility."

Election judges tend to be older...much older

The most recent analysis by the Denver Elections Division showed that its judges had an average age of 76.

"We’ve been working on data since then to see if the age has gone down in correlation to the onset of the pandemic, but the age of our election judges isn't part of any data that’s aggregated on a seasonal basis," says Amelia McClain, a spokesperson for the Denver Elections Division.

But it's not hard to see that judges are not getting younger. "I think they’re trying to be as creative as they can to get more people," says O'Brien. "It’s just really hard with the number of hours that you have to work."

McClain notes that the elections division administers a student election judge program in which local high school students are employed for paid assignments, working alongside regular election judges. "Their assignments are typically only a few days in length," she says, "but we’re very enthusiastic about getting young people involved in the electoral process."

There's an oxygen concentrator in one judge room

Given that many of the judges are older, some of them use supplemental oxygen. And come election time, the Denver Elections Division sets up a special ballot preparation room for these judges.

"To be more efficient with oxygen needs, one of our workers has an oxygen concentrator delivered, giving multiple people the ability to connect with this machine and not have to use their individual tanks for the day. The concentrator shows up when ballot preparation starts and stays until that team is done," McClain says.

The money is okay, but not great

Denver election judges are paid between $17.29 and $22 an hour.

"Because the jobs vary widely — from data entry/voter registration processing, to assisting voters in Voter Service and Polling Centers, to collecting ballots on election night — the pay is dependent upon the job’s responsibilities and the judge’s experience. Assignment lengths also vary, from six weeks to just a single day," says McClain.

O'Brien acknowledges that the pay she receives for her supervisory work is not a lot of money, and that a person certainly couldn't live on it. "But it’s good as a second gig or a part-time gig. Once you get into the system, unless you really screw up in some way, they’ll get back in touch with you generally," she says.

Judges are most needed for November general elections

While this municipal election may seem like a hot one, voter turnout is usually much higher during general elections in November. For example, in November 2020, 398,485 people voted in Denver, while just 186,394 people voted in Denver in the first round of the municipal election in May 2019. With more voters, more judges are needed to process ballots and keep tabulation running smoothly.

"We’ve needed around 1,100 to 1,200 judges for [November general] elections in the last few years,"
McClain says. "In contrast, for the April 2023 municipal election, we have 356 judges, many of whom are returning. We use historical turnout data and factor in things like anticipated changes that may affect ballot-processing time, as an example, to determine the number of positions needed."

One Denver judge is the head coach of the Croatian men's national lacrosse team

Mike Knezevich has worked as a teacher, principal and banker over the course of his working life. He now works elections in Denver, processing overseas and military ballots.

"It’s something to do and you’re around people. Mitzi has become a good friend of mine. We work really well together. That’s nice to have," says Knezevich, a Republican election judge who works with Miyoshi, a Democratic election judge. Judges from two different political parties verify ballot signatures together.

But this is not Knezevich's only gig.

"I’m actually the head coach of the Croatian national [lacrosse] team," Knezevich says. The grandson of Croatians, Knezevich has also coached lacrosse at the University of Denver and the University of Colorado. In recent years, he has been trying to guide Croatia to the World Lacrosse Championships, to take on powerhouse nations like the United States, Canada and the Iroquois Nation.

Denver always needs more Republican judges

Since the Denver Elections Division uses pairs of judges representing the two major political parties to verify ballot signatures, the agency recruits both Democrats and Republicans. But since there are almost 200,000 registered Democrats in the Mile High City compared with a little over 43,000 registered Republicans, recruitment efforts focus on Republicans.

"We first look to see who’s interested in coming back from past elections, regardless of affiliation. For Republican judge recruitment, other counties in the area share lists of those who are interested in working elections. We also work with the Republican Party locally and engage with groups like Denver Metro Young Republicans, Colorado Hispanic Republicans, the Reagan Club and a few others," says McClain.

One of the prime places for recruiting Republican judges is located close by. "At one point in time, Denver traded with Douglas County," O'Brien recalls.

People from any Colorado county can become an election judge in Denver

Until recently, election judges working in Denver had to be residents of the city. The same went for judges working elections in every other Colorado county; they had to live in that county.

"In 2018, the state legislature changed the law that restricted judges from working in counties in which they weren’t registered voters. They can now work in any Colorado county as long as they’re registered," McClain notes.

That gives counties that are strongly blue or strongly red more flexibility in recruiting judges from across the political spectrum.

Judges say the gig is fun

Although election judges admit the work can be repetitive, they also find enjoyment in the short-term job.

"It’s fun, and it’s really interesting to me," says Miyoshi, who is semi-retired after a long career in marketing. "I’ve always been a voter and paid attention to local and national elections, and never really thought about the process that happens behind closed doors."

O'Brien fell in love with working elections in 2010, when she first served as a judge. "It was such a rewarding experience," she says. "I’ve worked pretty much every election since then."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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