Election workers dedicated to service

Staff writer

For Forrest Kelsey, 2014 marks 20 years of service to his country. His military time ended in 1952, but he still works long hours and has no problem giving orders. For a few days out of the year, anyway.

“It’s hard to find poll workers, really,” Kelsey said. “And so once they get ahold of one, they pretty well hang on to him or her.”

On Monday, 39 poll workers gathered at Marion County Lake Hall to learn how to work the polls, and how to handle certain situations. County Clerk Tina Spencer had the workers perform in skits demonstrating polling situations such as voters who forgot their ID, observers who lacked a permit, and voters who could not read the ballot, among others.

Playing the role of the poll worker, showing the others how to handle every situation, was Kelsey.

Only recently, Kelsey says, has the job of an election judge started earning a small monetary allowance. Those who work the polls must arrive at 6:30 a.m. on the day of the election, and cannot leave until the polls close.

As a supervising judge, Kelsey’s job is to set up the polls, check voters in, accept the ballots, and return them to the courthouse to be counted.

Kelsey’s task for this primary was different than in past years. This was the first large election in which Marion featured only one polling station, which included the voters from all four townships (Centre, Grant, Gayle, and Wilson).

A large reason why workers must stay for the entire 12-hour voting window (plus additional time spent setting up and closing down the polling station) is because too few people sign on to work elections.

Spencer said in an e-mail that, were more people to sign on, the law allows poll workers a split shift. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds could also work the polls as interns. But she echoed Kelsey’s concerns about the difficulty of finding poll workers.

“Finding poll workers is one of the more difficult things about the election process,” Spencer wrote.

Year after year, however, Kelsey has been a worker the clerk’s office could count on.

After a career as deputy county treasurer, Kelsey says it’s his public duty to help out on election day.

“Somebody has to work them,” he said when asked why he works elections. “I took it on after I retired because I just felt like it was a public duty for me to serve. It certainly wasn’t the money.”

Kelsey also enjoys the work, and the chance it gives him to work with people in the community.

Kelsey’s wife, Bea, has helped with poll-working for a long time herself. She started working elections before Forrest, but was never an election judge.

“I didn’t like the responsibility,” she said.

She now works night shifts at the courthouse as part of a resolution board, counting write-ins, provisional ballots and absentee ballots. The shifts are shorter, though the last general election kept her until 3 a.m.

As a counter of write-ins, Bea Kelsey said the most frustrating part is having to tally the ballots who write-in mock candidates. When someone votes for Pluto or Mickey Mouse, “we have to write those down,” she said.

While some people don’t vote because they don’t have time, and others write-in Donald Duck because they don’t take it seriously, Kelsey and his co-workers devote their whole day to ensuring that elections can happen in Marion County. It’s something at least Spencer doesn’t take for granted.

“People who agree to serve in this capacity — making elections possible — are true patriots,” she wrote. “They sacrifice their time and energy for the rest of us to cast our ballot.

“They have a willingness to serve others, even if it is tiring — even if no one says thank you.”

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