By Tammy Moore Teague
“It’s 7:30, the polls are officially closed,” announced Gene Hamelman-Judge of Elections. The last ballot has been cast, and the polls are closed. But what now? We’ll take a closer look at what goes on behind the scenes on election day.
Huntington City Hall polling site reported 239 voters on Tuesday. Which, according to poll worker Dollie Gage, was a good turn out for a mid-term election. With coordinating efforts from Hamelman, Gage and two other poll workers, Judy Wallace and Robert Gage, all the machines and paper ballots were secured and made ready for delivery to the Sebastian County Courthouse in Fort Smith.
“It was a long day, but Simple Simon’s Pizza in Mansfield delivered us pizza for lunch,” stated Gage. Adding “They also did the same thing for Mansfield.”
This isn’t a first for Gage, as a matter of fact she’s been working the polls for the past 20 years. “I enjoy doing it,” she stated. “I started doing this because I felt it was a civic duty. It was something I really wanted to do to help the community.” Gage had served the past 18 years as Judge of Elections in Mansfield, but recently retired from that position.
The Judge of Elections is responsible for setting up the polling site, including equipment, and for making sure it is taken down and delivered back to the courthouse in Fort Smith. That delivery includes the ballots. Poll workers check and verify names and information and assist voters at the voting machines as needed.
If someone does not have their identification, they can still vote, but that vote is considered provisional. That vote will not be counted until the voter can verify their information at the clerk’s office.
“A lot goes on after those doors close,” commented Robert Gage. Ballots are cast on a machine by the voters. A paper ballot backup is generated, and the voter puts that in a locked box. All of those ballots are gathered and put in a box which is sealed and delivered to the courthouse. “The voting machines contain a thumb drive which stores the ballot information. But, if there is ever a question about that thumb drive they can go to these ballot backups to verify that information,” explained Gage.
When the judge arrives at the courthouse, the sealed box is opened and officials begin verifying the contents. That’s when the public can begin tracking the outcome of the races. That information is generated by the county clerk’s office.
Each one of the workers and the judge take a daily oath. “Everybody raises their right hand and we swear to do things right. We pledge to keep it secret and not tell how someone has voted under penalty of law,” explained Robert Gage. If someone needs assistance at the polling machine, two workers go to assist in an effort to maintain integrity. Additionally, workers ensure that no electioneering is taking place within 100 feet of the polling place. Poll workers undergo periodic training, and judges undergo training every election, particularly if there is any changes.
These poll workers ensure that the process of democracy is carried out smoothly and done above reproach. To them, and for their time and efforts, we say thank you.
By Tammy Moore Teague