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Catherine Jourdan: Election workers are heroes for our time

Catherine Jourdan: Election workers are heroes for our time

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Who are these election “officials” we have been hearing about this past week? Those people counting votes and in the hot seat as America looks on?

They are your neighbors, your friends at church, someone shopping in the aisle at your local grocery store, the person walking their dog down your street! They are you! Or very much like you.

Election officials work for very little money and they take their jobs seriously. They are trained in a job with many moving parts and they agreed to work during a pandemic, even as the numbers were going up again. In North Carolina, our voting sites must be staffed with a combination of Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated registered voters. They are trained to be nonpartisan and dedicated to providing safe, open and accessible elections. Many worked both early voting and Election Day. Those are 10-to-14 hour days over 17 days. On Nov. 3, most arose at 4 a.m. Some made country ham biscuits for their crews and pound cakes and huge pots of chili, the smells wafting out of the break rooms all over Forsyth County.

Most voters were polite and friendly, but some were grumpy and demanding — yet these professionals persisted and did their jobs with calmness and dedication. Both parties sent observers to monitor the electoral process, noting if there were any irregularities. I personally have not heard of any complaints; in fact, most told me they were so impressed with what they saw that they want to apply to be an election worker in the future.

As hard as these people worked, it is a fraction of the time that the staff at local boards of elections work. They have been working nearly around the clock since May. In this election, our board sent out more than 60,000 absentee ballots. For a point of comparison, we sent out fewer than 15,000 in 2016. Once all the forms, envelopes, labels and handouts were created, prepared and assembled, a big task in and of itself, it took a good 60-75 seconds to prepare an envelope for mailing and dozens of workers to accomplish this task. Thousands of those absentee ballots were returned in person and it was the job of two staff members to sit in the lobby of the Board of Elections all day long and log in those returned ballots. All returned absentee ballots had to be scanned and counted and banded together.

In North Carolina, we were fortunate that our legislature allowed us to open and count our absentee ballots in advance of Election Day. This allowed us to release our results once the polls closed Nov. 3.

In addition, election officials register voters; train an army of poll workers; secure polling places, that always require last-minute changes; prepare and code all the ballots; transport and set up equipment at every voting site; order supplies, which this year included masks, gloves, sanitizer and disinfectant wipes; and they handle a myriad of problems that require solutions ASAP. In Forsyth County, we had a team of technology specialists who were regularly dispatched to voting sites to solve computer, tabulator or printer glitches.

The dedication of these people cannot be denied. Our Board of Elections staff worked seven days a week and 12-to-14 hour days for months. They missed seeing their babies walk and birthdays and anniversaries with family, much less enjoying a day off.

These people are patriots. They are the backbone of our electoral process and without them there would be no elections. Election workers are honest and dedicated and should be hailed as heroes, just like our health care workers who put their lives on the line every day during a pandemic. Both groups wear masks all day long. The thousands of details they attend to are mind-blowing. I stand in awe of these heroes and am proud to call myself a Forsyth County Board of Elections member.

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