Election judges prepare for Election Day in Harris County

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 17: House Rules Committee chairman Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) holds the gavel during a House Rules Committee hearing on the impeachment against President Donald Trump on December 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew Ha

Early voting starts Tuesday, and we’re now just over three weeks away from Election Day.

Harris County will have more than 800 polling places to choose from on Election Day and a total of 11,000 people staffing those polling places.


It’s the first presidential election with county-wide voting in Harris County, meaning voters don’t have to vote in their precinct but can choose the precinct of their preference.

Each precinct has a presiding judge in charge of that polling place.
Perhaps the youngest presiding judge will be 18-year-old Tasha Savas, nominated by the Democratic Party to head up Harris County Precinct 0060, the polling place at Lanier Middle School in the Montrose area.

“It’s my first time as a judge, but I’ve done quite a few elections as a clerk,” said Savas. “It’s really exciting for me. I’m one of the youngest—I think the youngest—presiding judge. The average age is 65-years-old, so it’s really an honor to be in this position.”

In the Humble area, Jonathan Swirsky was nominated by the Republican Party to be presiding judge of Harris County Precinct 0674, the polling place at Oak Forest Elementary. He’s spent many years working elections, including as a poll watcher, clerk, and presiding judge.

“As a presiding judge, making sure people that are registered to vote, vote correctly is big, and when I say vote correctly…vote according to the law,” said Swirsky.

Each judge works with an alternate judge from the opposing political party and hires a handful of clerks to staff the polling place. “The main thing I care about more than political party is that they’re on the side of the law and that they’re on the side of helping everybody that is eligible to vote in a safe way,” said Swirsky.

“Presiding judges and alternate judges—we go through a lot of training, and we’re pretty much the top authority over election law, so we interpret and make declarations on Election Day, and we have the authority of a judicial officer, so pretty much any voter who has any issues or problems with their registration—we handle them,” said Savas.
 Of course, the election judges will make sure the polling place is set up properly on Election Day, enforce new health rules due to the pandemic, and do what they can to deter voter suppression and voter fraud.
“I think the system that we have with voter ID sets up a very good system,” said Swirsky. “I think that that is the main thing—to make sure that people bring that ID and that it matches.”

“I’ve never had an instance of voter fraud,” said Savas. “Voter suppression is a different story. I know that it’s hard when we have one drop off location as opposed to twelve.”

“I’ve never seen any indication of voter suppression whatsoever,” said Swirsky.

The Harris County Clerk’s Office is still taking applications for poll workers, although they’ve already received a record 40,000 applications this year.

Poll worker jobs are paid, whereas a poll watcher is an unpaid volunteer role. To be a poll watcher, you must be appointed to that position.

Poll watchers must wear appropriate documentation identifying themselves as poll watchers. They are not allowed to speak with voter.

Their role is to observe the process and report any concerns to the presiding and alternate judges.