After decades of public service, Abner and Zoe Mikva turned their attention to promoting the spirit of civic engagement that inspired them. Thanks to their Mikva Challenge, Chicago has consistently led the nation for more than a decade in recruiting, training and placing thousands of student judges of election in our polling places, each and every election day.

There are few lessons in democracy more valuable than managing a polling place in Chicago. And as we moved to more complicated voting equipment and electronic poll books, it was the student judges who often had the technological edge to lead the way.

In 2011, Mikva Challenge lined up students from a West Side high school to help us staff a Voter Engagement Community Forum. The big takeaways, from all generations, were calls from the general public for online registration, Election Day registration, better ballot access for military/overseas voters and restoring the civics instruction in high schools. Those ideas became Illinois laws.

We shall be forever grateful to Abner and Zoe Mikva for their foresight, vision and commitment to a more collaborative and open civic engagement. We now engage more people early in their lives — so that they may contribute often through adulthood. We are better for their impact and hope it will expand to reach generations to come in cities across America.

– Marisel A. Hernandez, Chair, William J. Kresse, Commissioner/Secretary, and Jonathan T. Swain, Commissioner, Chicago Election Board