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'Argument' Between Voter And Election Judge Breaks Out At Richfield Precinct

A Richfield resident reports an election judge after she says he voiced his opinion on the proposed school referendum.

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.

David Haines November 10, 2011 at 10:00 PM
I'm not excusing what the election worker did, but if Ruiters would not have made her personal views about an issue on the ballot known, this could have been avoided. In my opinion, both sides are at fault here as both sides could be accused of soliciting others that may have heard the "argument". It's a good reminder to just keep your opinions to yourself at the polling place no matter who you are. 211B.11 ELECTION DAY PROHIBITIONS. Subdivision 1.Soliciting near polling places. A person may not display campaign material, post signs, ask, solicit, or in any manner try to induce or persuade a voter within a polling place or within 100 feet of the building in which a polling place is situated, or anywhere on the public property on which a polling place is situated, on primary or election day to vote for or refrain from voting for a candidate or ballot question.
Caitlin Burgess November 10, 2011 at 10:31 PM
Yes, it's probably best we all just keep a tight lip when at the polls.
Michael Hindin November 11, 2011 at 12:43 AM
From the article the judges comment, although not appropriate, appears to be invited by the citizen. One should understand the economic pressure people living on fixed or worse declining incomes are under. A reminder of the rules on both sides and a little compassion are in order. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving all.
Deb C November 11, 2011 at 01:13 PM
... and not wear campaign buttons or apparel of any candidate or party... past or present or anything political in nature. Voting is serious business!
Amy Paddock November 14, 2011 at 06:40 PM
We all need to be respectful and follow that respect inside the voting at the polls! 101 I think, and it keeps people from these kind of confrontations. I love how neutral my voting precinct has been. Everyone is there to vote, however they want and that is how it should be. Tight lips on opinions and open respect.

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