As Ellen Ruiters morning at , she hoped turnout would be good. *After she cast her vote, she asked a nearby election judge whether the morning had brought many voters in, and the judge said it had been fairly steady.
Ruiters continued the casual conversation, saying to the judge, “Well, we really need to have people come out and vote for this .”
Once these words escaped her lips, what seemed like the start of random chit-chat soon turned into a heated discussion.
Ruiters got an unexpected earful from the election judge, an unnamed man, who told Ruiters he felt the referendum shouldn’t be passed. According to Ruiters, the judge told her he was on a fixed income and, thus, didn’t want the property tax increase. He also said he didn’t have kids in school anymore and felt the schools hadn’t been spending the money they have properly.
Given the scene—an election judge at a polling location—Ruiters was beyond surprised by his comments. Ruiters, who spoke about the incident with Richfield Patch Wednesday morning, in the moment felt she had to defend her position. She mentioned that property values would likely decrease if the city didn’t have good schools. The judge responded by saying he was an old man and it wouldn’t affect him.
“It was almost like an argument broke out in the middle of the precinct,” Ruiters said. “I was shocked to be met with such strong opposition at the polls … and I was shocked to be met with allegations that the schools were misappropriating funds.”
*Almost immediately after leaving the polls, Ruiters called the City of Richfield to report the incident.
“I don’t think if I’m voting I should have to defend my vote,” she said. “I thought it was inappropriate. It made voting a [place for] confrontation.”
A city official confirmed her view, Ruiters said, telling her election judges are paid for their work and aren't allowed to voice their opinions, either to voters or even to other election workers.
After Patch’s inquiries, the city confirmed Ruiters' allegations.
Richfield City Clerk Nancy Gibbs stated that after the claim was made, the precinct was immediately called and, while the chair judge was unaware of the conversation, she said she would investigate.
Gibbs said the chair judge called back to confirm the individual in question admitted to having a similiar discussion, and he was "reinstructed to keep his opinions to himself."
All election judges are required by state law to receive training every two years on conduct and protocol. Gibbs said Richfield trains its judges every year.
"At our training, we emphatically tell election judges that they are not allowed to wear buttons or clothing regarding anything to do with candidates or their personal opinions on any person or questions on the ballot," Gibbs said in her statement. "[Further], they are instructed not to indulge in personal chatter regarding any candidate or question on the ballot with each other or voters."
While the accused judge admitted to making remarks about times being tough, he also said he told Ruiters he was a former teacher and supported the schools, according to the statement.
While this incident is serious, it appears to be an isolated incident; no other accusations were made by other voters. Gibbs didn't mention any disciplinary action.
Editor's Note: Two changes have been made for clarity.