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Workers in Beach sought as general election approaches

BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE

BLACKWATER — Turnout this past month in the small precinct in the rural southwestern area of the Beach was slight — just 24 votes cast, according to unofficial returns.

That’s not a huge shock for a primary, but it made for slow stretches for the people performing a civic duty at the new fire station.

Those who helped voters navigate the new paper ballot system were there for a variety of reasons, but, at heart, election workers support the process of choosing leaders and, in this case, a candidate who will represent a party on the fall ballot.

They work for a bit of pay, but mostly it’s for their city, the candidates and, of course, their own neighbors.

Some even do it for Mom.

“This is my second time,” said Ashley Boyett, 35, who grew up in Blackwater.

“My mom wanted me to,” she added, smiling while awaiting voters with other election officials on Tuesday, June 9.

“They want to do their civic duty for their community,” said Susie Kovacs, the chief election officer at the precinct and Boyett’s mother.

“We wanted to be out here and be with our mom,” Boyett said.

“And spend time with our neighbors,” said Megan Jakimjuk, 29, the assistant chief election official. She, too, is one of Kovacs’ daughters.

Few neighbors showed up.

“That’s not unusual for a primary,” Kovacs said. “We’re the smallest precinct in the city. For a general election, we have a better turnout.”

“We’ll be busier in November,” election official Danielle Ward, 32, said.

Kovacs said she has supported the election process for years. “I think I started doing it when my son was born, and he just had a birthday. He’s 38. … I enjoy coming out and seeing my neighbors and being with other people.”

There are opportunities for others to do this. With the fall election approaching, the registrar seeks citizens to join the ranks of election officials who staff 98 precincts and the city’s general absentee precinct.

“We need election officials,” Registrar Donna Patterson said in an interview before the primary vote. “We’re trying to do a major recruitment effort after the primary.”

There are 1,100 election workers now, and another 300 are sought for the November leading into the presidential election year, Assistant Registrar Tracy Gibson wrote in an email.

Workers are paid for their day – it’s a long one, officials pointed out – and for training prior to the election. There are also a number of responsibilities, including the ability to turn off any political preferences and help all voters.

“You need to be detail oriented and able to take the whole day,” Patterson said. “We are here to help anyone who is on the ballot and all voters.”

Patterson herself got her start working at the polls in Northern Virginia in 2002. She said she enjoyed being able to exercise her passion for encouraging participation in the process.

Gibson wrote that turnout for the precincts involved in the primary was 2.2 percent. Past primaries have brought 5 or 6 percent. Despite the slow primary day, there can be some hectic moments in supporting elections, workers said.

On the primary day, there had been only 11 voters in the early afternoon at the precinct in Blackwater.

“It will be 12,” Jakimjuk said.

“I will be voting shortly,” Ward said.

Al Ablowich, chairperson of the electoral board, visited the precinct – and got a quick look at the new station, too.

“We would like to have had a larger turnout because we’d like to get feedback,” he said, speaking of the new paper-ballot system that came on line for the primary.

Beach residents voting in the primary used new machines that digitally scan paper ballots.

Patterson, the general registrar for the city, said the city spent $1.4 million on the new machines.

These replaced electronic machines that brought some unwanted attention to the voting process in the fall, when issues were reported with 31 touch screen machines in 25 polling locations.

U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-2nd, raised concerns about the issues on election day after voters complained that their votes for him were being recorded for challenger Suzanne Patrick, a Democrat.

The replacements were in the works then, according to the registrar’s office, and the fall 2014 election was already planned to be the last with that system. State law since 2007 has required replacement voting machines to be paper based.

Benefits of the new system include a record of votes should the need for a recount arise, Patterson said. It might also help if power went out because voting could continue on paper, according to a city statement released earlier this year.

“There’s a paper trail,” Patterson said.

On primary day – and days after the vote – election officials said the system worked well.

“It was just so simple,” Kovacs said this past week. “We didn’t have any complaints.”

The Independent News

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