Meet Election Judge David Burson
David Burson was an electrical engineer working for Texas Instruments in Dallas in 1971.
Burson always had an interest in politics and it was then that he began his long career as a Texas election judge. He continues to serve in this essential role even after he and his family relocated to Fairview in 1996.
Even the most disciplined of voters, the kind of citizen who casts a ballot at every election, often don’t really know what an election judge does or how they get selected.
The first thing you must know is that an election judge is not a judge at all. Think of the election judge more as the mayor or sheriff of a very tiny town, the polling place, and only for a few days each year. Election judges under Texas law are charged with “the power of a district judge to enforce order and preserve the peace.” What this means in the real world is that the election judge in each election precinct literally runs the operation assisted by an alternate election judge and several election clerks. The clerks are the people who check the validity of your proof of residency, usually a driver’s license, and then process you through a few quick steps so that you are then able to cast your ballot, before giving you the “I voted” lapel sticker. Determining your legal residence is important because there are elections for municipal positions such as city councils, school boards and others that often supplement statewide or national elections and must be properly managed to ensure that only qualified voters vote in each election at these different levels. If you are a registered voter in Collin County, you can vote in any county precinct but you must be furnished with the correct ballot if your vote is to count.
Election laws in all states can be quirky. Election rules, for example, may apply to counties or cities of varying sizes and types differently. It can be complicated. Texas is no exception. In fact, Texas tends to be among the states with some of the most unique voting characteristics. On Aug. 27, 2018, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton ruled, for example, in a non-binding opinion that, “with some limited exceptions, presiding election judges who are licensed to carry may bring their guns to polling places.” For the most part, though, you won’t see armed election judges, except perhaps, in some far-flung rural polling places where safety and security have been issues in the past.
Election judges are selected from among those who have been identified by the winning political party in a voting precinct’s most recent gubernatorial election. The losing party in that same gubernatorial election gets to recommend the alternate election judge candidates. This is intended to ensure nonpartisan management of the voting process.
Both party lists go to the county clerk, or another county official, who makes the ultimate selections from the provided lists. In Collin County, that official is Bruce Sherbet, of the Collin County Elections Department. In addition to designating who will be election judge and alternate election judge for each election, Sherbet will authorize the hiring of a pre-determined number of voting clerks. This is based upon the number of voters who cast ballots at each precinct in the most recent similar election.
The role of the alternate election judge is essentially to step in and “keep order” in the event that the election judge cannot perform the required duties. Both the election judge and alternate election judge must be qualified voters in the county in which the polling place is located. In practice, however, the election judge and alternate election judge work as a team to manage the incredible number of very detailed tasks required to prepare a polling place properly. An 85-page handbook is provided to each official to ensure that procedures and processes are administered consistently. Several days before each election they, and their clerks, will prepare the site and check all of the voting machines with meticulous precision to ensure that no tampering has taken place. Each machine is secured with individually coded padlocks and security tapes. Any hint of tampering results in an immediate call to the Collin County Elections Department in McKinney. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet. During early voting, different machines are used. At the close of early voting on Apr. 30, all machines will be sealed again and removed. Different machines will be installed several days before election day on May 4.
David Burson is the election judge at the Lovejoy ISD Administration Building, 259 Country Club Road.
When asked to share some of the more unique issues that he has encountered during the last 48 years he smiled and offered, “Well, I’ve never had to call law enforcement to remove or apprehend someone. That can happen and does elsewhere. I remember one lady who refused to provide her driver’s license as proof of residency. She had it with her but said, “You can’t make me show it.” In cases like this, Burson explains, “We will issue a provisional ballot to someone and inform them that the chances are good that the ballot will not be counted in the vote after the matter is reviewed by the Elections Department in McKinney”.
Serving as an election judge, alternate judge or election clerk makes it possible for citizens who are properly qualified to vote safely, efficiently and without drama. None of these individuals are motivated by the compensation they receive. By most standards, the compensation would be judged paltry. Judges and alternates are paid $12 per hour and clerks are paid $10 per hour, except during Party Primary Elections when Texas State law
provides them with a maximum of $8 per hour. Instead, they serve to ensure that a vital element of our democracy works as it was intended to do so. When you vote next, remember to say, “Thank you for your service!”