Unsung group prepares for the big day this week

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: June 4, 2006

Geraldine Player will rise at 6 Tuesday morning to get to the polling station at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, as she has on every election day but one for nearly 50 years.

Player, 66, has been working at the polls every election day since she turned 18.

“It’s just a way that I can serve my community and my country,” she said.

Every year, candidates and political groups spend time and money encouraging people to get out and vote. Far less attention is paid to another group without which elections could not succeed: poll workers.

Calhoun County officials must make sure enough clerks and inspectors will be manning each polling place when the polls open Tuesday morning. Probate Judge Arthur Murray, whose office handles poll-worker appointments, said he knows there will be a scramble until the last minute to have everything in place.

“It’s a big chore to get … so many people that’s willing to go out and work 14 hours a day,” Murray said.

This year, 270 clerks and 49 inspectors will be at work in the county’s polling places. Murray said he knows he can expect to be receiving calls at his home up until Monday night from poll workers canceling at the last minute.

“We have to [fill all the spots], we don’t have a choice – it’s not up to my judgment,” Murray said. “When you’re dealing with that many people, some people are going to have some emergencies and can’t work.”

Many longtime poll workers say they participate because they enjoy the work and the feeling of civic responsibility.

“I feel like I’m doing a civic duty that needs to be done, and I was honored to be asked,” said Mary Wood, 79, who has worked as a clerk in Jacksonville for more than five years.

“I’m just repaying back something to the community,” said Jesse Turner, 75, a polling inspector in Oxford for almost 15 years. “Somebody has to do it – it sure wasn’t the money that gets you in this.”

In past years, all poll workers received $70 a day for two to three elections per year. This year, clerks will get from $100 to $125 a day, and inspectors from $150 to $175, depending on whether they attended a training class.

For the poll workers, election day begins when they arrive at the polling place around 6 a.m. to prepare for the arrival of the first voters. It ends after the last voter has left at 7 p.m. The inspectors often work until after 9 p.m.

“Sometimes it’s pretty harassing and other times it’s fairly calm,” Wood said. “I don’t like the days when people don’t come to vote because that makes for a long day, and I’m disappointed in people not showing up.”

Murray said many poll workers are retirees who do not have job conflicts. New workers are often found by asking former workers for recommendations.

Thyra Smith, 67, will be working as a clerk for the first time Tuesday.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Smith said. “I understand we’ll need to take some food, so me and my sister are known to cook pretty often – I’ll be taking homemade rolls and a peanut butter cake.”

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