STEPPING UP: I started working the polls when a friend suggested trying it, eight years ago. I was a check-in judge, seeing if voters' names were in the register and verifying addresses and birth dates. This election will be my third time as chief: setting up the polling place, handling any problems, making sure to close properly, getting the results modemed to the Board of Elections. I see it as my civic duty. Chief judges get $150 for the day, plus $45 for their training; voting-unit judges and check-in judges get $120 plus $25 training.

WHAT IT TAKES: Here's what you need to be a judge: a good mind, a good back and good feet. Check-in judges and assistant chiefs sit all day (assistants handle those voting on paper); chiefs and voting-unit judges stand all day (voting-unit judges escort voters to the machines and collect the access cards afterward). For Montgomery, that's 6 a.m. (we open at 7) until after we close; anyone still in line votes. Then there's counting and verification. The hours are just short of mind-boggling -- 15, 16 easily. To be a judge, you also have to be a registered voter, and we always need to have even party representation at each polling place. We stress in training that you're apolitical while working. It's not to rally support for your candidate, it's just to be sure the vote is secret and accurate and that each voter has a pleasant experience.

TEENS WANTED: This year Montgomery County is adding "facilitators" to manage the crowds after 4 p.m. -- explain any delays, discourage line hoppers. They're unpaid and not sworn in. It might be a good place for responsible young people to get high school community-service hours. Call your county Board of Elections; it's listed in the blue government pages of the phone book -- in Montgomery County, it's under E for "Elections, Board of."

TOUGH BREAKS: It's always been peaceful where I've been, but I heard a man did come back once and try to vote again because he said he didn't see Barbara Mikulski's name on the ballot. And another time a voter brought his grandchild, who pressed "cast ballot" before the voter was done. He was very upset I wouldn't let him vote again. But that's too bad! You need to keep control of your child.

THE RIGHT TIME: Vote early -- not often, but early. The best time is 9 a.m., after the morning rush. There's a lull from 9 to 11 and again from after lunch until 4 p.m. After that, the closer to 8, the longer the lines.

As told to Ellen Ryan

Electoral college: Linda Dickenson shows poll workers the ropes.