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Workers make ballots count

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Cobb County election workers check voting machines to be used in the March 6 Presidential Preference Primary.


By Gary A. Witte
CobbLine Staff

 The building blocks of democracy are stored in a nondescript warehouse near Kennesaw.

Steel shelves filled with stacks of black suitcase-sized cases nearly reach a two-story-high ceiling. Each plastic case has a color coded security seal to indicate if it is ready to be sent out. And inside every case are voting machines ready for the next Election Day.

"So many people don’t realize what goes into an election," Cobb County Elections and Registration Director Janine Eveler said. "They only see their one polling place."

In January, election workers started the process for the March 6 Presidential Preference Primary and Special Election.

By February, almost a dozen people were working in the Kennesaw Preparation Center, packing supplies and checking the functions of voting machines before officially sealing the cases.

Prep Center Manager Gerry Miller said there are up to 2,300 machines and each one has to be tested before it leaves the warehouse.

"It’s one of those jobs where you have to check, check and check," Miller said. "You can’t rush through it. You have to take your time."

The six weeks prior to every election are filled with preparations. A workforce has to be hired and trained to staff 153 precincts and multiple advance voting locations spread throughout the county. The ballots have to be accurate and the cards programmed with the correct information.
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"Election Day is one day and you have to get it right," Eveler said.

Since elections vary in size and participation, it follows that staff requirements vary for the department. It has only 19 full-time and 13 part-time. It also hires anywhere from 1,000 to 1,300 seasonal part-time and day workers for various jobs on each Election Day.

Many of the election workers are retired from previous careers.

Election Technician Supervisor Gregory Nowland of Marietta took an early retirement from his job rather than have to move to New Jersey. He soon began assisting with election work for Cobb County and became a full-time employee about five years ago.

"I think it’s very rewarding to be so involved in the process," he said, adding that he also appreciates the camaraderie with returning seasonal election employees. "I enjoy working with these guys. It’s like old home week."

Area Supervisor Huanne Lehto of Smyrna started working at the polls more than 20 years ago after a friend got her interested in it. She said those who choose to work elections are a special kind of people – both dedicated and conscientious.

"I think they feel like they’re serving their country by working in the polls," Lehto said.

Poll Manager Parris McDonald of Powder Springs said he doesn’t think the public understands how much training or time is involved in election work.
"They think it’s an easy day to put in, but it’s not always that way," he said.

McDonald, who has worked for the county for 15 years, said they sometimes have to deal with people who believe themselves registered to vote, but aren’t on the official list. He said voters should go online prior to an election to make sure they’re registered. The information is available at http://www.CobbElections.org.

Poll workers have to have the patience and understanding to deal with these and other problems, he said.

Poll Manager Sandy Prill of east Cobb is a former customer service administrator who has worked for Cobb Elections for 11 years. "We’re trained to handle just about anything that comes our way," she said.

Many of the workers wished more residents used their right to vote. During last year’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum, only 11 percent of active registered voters participated. "Everyone can’t just sit back and let the world go by," McDonald said.

Meanwhile, election workers seem to derive a lot of satisfaction from their part in making democracy possible.

"When it all goes well, and it usually does, I feel a great sense of accomplishment and then it has to be done all over again," Nowland said.