Archive for Thursday, April 8, 2004

Voters find familiar faces at the polls

April 8, 2004

Before casting her ballot Tuesday afternoon, a voter recognized one of three women seated behind a folding table inside the Fairmount Township Fire Station.

After the two women exchanged pleasantries, the voter came to a quick realization. "Gosh, I don't think I've seen you since the last election," the voter said.

The candidates may change and the issues may be different, but one trend remains the same at the fire station polling place. Each election, Margaret Moses, Ruby Wiley and Aileen Seeman will be there to monitor the voting process.

The three women comprise the Basehor Township Election Board, have for the last seven years, and are as constant as the patriotic red, white and blue curtains hanging from the voting booths.

Leavenworth County Clerk Linda Sheer, who is responsible for coordinating voting procedures at 35 polling places in the county, said she doesn't lose any sleep worrying about Basehor Township's election board.

"You know you're getting some experience there," Sheer said. "It's a pretty smooth running precinct. They do a good job."

The board has more than 40 years of combined experience working on elections in Leavenworth County. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, they count on serving 40 more.

"I'm going to keep doing it as long as they ask me and as long as I can walk and talk and breathe," said Seeman, who's known to tell a joke or two during lulls on election day.

"Sometimes they have a hard time finding election workers," said Moses, who has volunteered to work on elections for 27 years and is the election board supervisor. "I kind of feel obligated to."

The singular overwhelming attraction that brings the women back year after year to the polls is somewhat elusive. None of them can quite pinpoint the exact reason, but it's apparent the three women have forged a bond through volunteerism.

"We really have built a close relationship over the years," said Wiley, noting that the election board also works together in various organizations and civic groups.

Another bonus for the election board is that they routinely get to visit with voters, most of whom they've run across before. On election day, in this voting district, familiar faces greet most voters by their first names.

"Between the three of us, we usually know most of them," Moses said.

Whatever keeps drawing the women back to the fire station -- a sense of civic pride, a belief in the importance of democracy or simply the time spent with each other volunteering affords -- one that isn't alluring is the pay scale.

Three times a year, the women are in charge of ensuring a legal vote occurs. Their workday can range anywhere from 12 to 14 hours long. One presidential election, they worked until 6 a.m. the next morning.

For their efforts, they receive $5.15 per hour, a wage that fails to dishearten these volunteers. That's what the job pays and it does not dampen their affection for practicing grassroots democracy, they said.

As with any job, there are war stories, times when things just don't seem to go as planned. These times usually occur during preliminary elections, when the election board is required to ask voters for their party affiliation.

"Some people just get irate about that," Moses said. "We kind of dread that a little but we have to ask. There are different ballots for different parties."

And, as with most jobs, the three notice things they would like to see improved upon, such as voter turnout, which they said seems to be declining with each election.

"The critics are usually the ones that don't vote," Seeman said. "You have no right to be a critic if you don't vote."

"We don't have enough young people voting," Moses added.

But, problems or not, through the good times and the bad (and there are more of the former than the latter), on election days the three can be found where they've always been, at the polls.

They'll chat with voters, sign them in their registration book, hand them a ballot and leave them with a smile and an 'I voted' sticker. During the slow times, they'll chat, eat cookies and Seeman will tell a story, joke or both.

Seeman may have summed up the election board's future as a trio on Tuesday afternoon when she was asked how the day was shaping up.

"We've been here for a while," she said. "I imagine we'll be here for a while longer."

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