08/28/07 — County gathers election workers

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County gathers election workers

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on August 28, 2007 1:45 PM

The job of the precinct judges is to run each polling place. Without them, there would be no elections. And so, Wayne County Board of Elections Director Gary Sims said, with four, maybe five, elections scheduled for the next two years, having trained, reliable people in place is a must.

On Monday, with 43 days remaining before the first election on Oct. 9, the elections office officially kicked off its next two-year voting cycle with a short open house for its judges. Inviting them in for light refreshments, Sims said it was a chance for the judges to meet the elections staff and each other, and a chance for any rookies to get their first good looks at the voting machines.

"We've got a new attitude with our precinct officials and judges," he explained. "This is the first time we've done this. We don't want to just plug holes. We want to make sure we're getting good people, and that they understand how important the process is, and how important they are to the process."

Fortunately, many of those people signed up to oversee the elections are aware of the role they play.

"It's my civic duty. That's all I know. It's stressful, but somebody's got to do it, so I just keep on doing it," said Alberta Coley, judge at Precinct 1 in Fremont.

And, added Judy Hallow, chief judge at the Wayne County Public Library (Precinct 29), when they turn in their paperwork at the end of night and everything adds up, they know they've played their part in the electoral process.

Fortunately, this year should be a bit easier for Wayne County's 90 judges. There will be little different from last year.

The biggest change will be the allowance of same-day registration and one-stop voting, but, Sims said, the office staff will be the only ones running that precinct.

"Hopefully if there are any kinks in our system, we'll know it before we get to May," he said. "I don't really know what to expect. I'm either expecting three people or 3,000 people. I don't think it'll be as painful as it may sound."

And really, he continued, with legislative, county commission, gubernatorial, congressional and presidential elections all on tap next year, this year is really just a practice round.

"Next year is when we really, really need you," he said. "This is a learning election."

But he cautioned them to still take it seriously, adding that a challenge in Wayne County is more likely to come from a municipal race than a congressional race.

"This election is just as important as a presidential election," he said.

Still, with only 14 precincts open in October and 28 in November, he is hoping to use it as an opportunity to pair some of the experienced judges with the rookies.

"We've got a lot of good stuff as far as teaming people up and we've got the best team in North Carolina," Sims said. "We've got Democrats and Republicans in this room and I think I can promise you that on Election Day, that will go in your back pocket.

"My job is to have a successful election. That's what I care about. That's what I'm passionate about."

But to have a successful election, he needs good judges -- the reason for the open house and the reason for the hours of training that will be held during the next month.

"These people are the frontline. We've got to be able to depend on them, so we're willing to invest our time," Sims said.