Ralph “Bones” Christopher, Molene Baldwin and Betty Dyer know a thing or two about voting. Together they have 50 years experience helping at precincts during elections.
Dyer and Baldwin remember when working an election precinct meant lugging voting machines the size of refrigerators and using large bound books where they stamped voters personal information.
Things have changed. Now the voting machines use digital technology, and they weigh a lot less. Instead of large heavy bound books, information on individual voters is typed into light weight laptops.
Christopher said an election commissioner first asked him to work the polls years ago. “I’ve been doing it a long time. I don’t remember the first election I worked,” said the 75-year-old who lives on Middlesettlements Road. “I believe in people voting, and each and every one should vote.”
Christopher said if people don’t vote, they have no right to complain. “If I vote, I can complain,” he said.
Dyer, who is 73 and lives off Singleton Station Road, said she started helping in the late 1970s when she owned a building off Topside Road that was one of the voting precincts. Dyer ran a daycare on the top floor, and the precinct voting filled the ground floor during elections.
“They asked me to fill in for them,” she remembered. “Then, when they moved the precinct to Beech Grove Church in the late 1980s, I started working it regularly. There was a need for workers, so I got into it.”
Dyer said she would go to area nursing homes, assisted living facilities and hospitals to help with absentee voting. A lot has changed since those days, she said.
“I remember those first elections. We had huge machines, huge,” she said to which Baldwin replied. “They were as big as refrigerators. It took all your strength to move them.”
Dyer said this is the third set of machines the election commission has used. They also once stamped people’s personal information confirming they had voted into large, heavy books. Now the workers input that information on laptops. “We’ve gone from stamping to scanning information into computers.”
Baldwin, 70, said she started working with the Election Commission in 2002 after retiring from the county. “I enjoy working with people, and there is a need for people to help people,” during elections. She lives in the Carpenters community.
Each of the longtime poll workers said presidential elections are the most challenging, but also some of the most fun.
“For the presidential elections, you always have more people who don’t understand the machines and ask lot of questions,” Christopher said.
Christopher said the most challenging elections were when voters were using new machines and need the precinct workers to help them. “It went slowly, but we got better at it at the end,” he said.
Dyer said she remembers standing in line during some presidential elections and showing people how to use the voting machines. Those November election days were always cold in the tunnel leading to the Election Commission in the basement of the courthouse.
“I stood in the line and taught people how to use the machines. The wind came through that tunnel like it was a wind tunnel,” Dyer said.
Baldwin said, “I remember they had boots and gloves on because it was so cold.”
Baldwin said the two biggest elections she has seen were the 2004 and 2008 elections. “We had people lined up out the door to the dumpster,” which is about 200 feet down, around two corners and into a parking lot. “We were wall-to-wall people, plus the machines were new, and you had to help them through the voting process.”
But the trio of longtime poll workers said what hasn’t changed about working precincts on Election Day is the opportunity to see friends - the voters and those who work the precincts.
“Everyone is real nice to work with,” Christopher said.
Baldwin said she enjoys her co-workers. “I enjoy all of them, and (Election Administrator) Libby (Breeding) is great to work with. It’s a tiring time, but it’s an enjoyable time,” she said.
Baldwin said she and the others have put in a lot of hours helping with early voting. “I went home the day before yesterday, and my house was a wreck. We have laundry piled up, and we do a lot of eating out.”
Dyer laughed and echoed her thoughts. “Mine, too,” said Dyer. “My husband isn’t a good ‘house husband’ either,” Dyer said of her husband, Omar Dyer, who also works at the election commission as a voting machine technician.
When asked what part of their work as precinct workers is the most fun, Dyer said she enjoys working the precincts during all the elections because of the people she sees. “You get to see a lot of people in your community you don’t normally see, and you get plenty of hugs around the neck,” she said.
Breeding said the experience that workers like Dyer, Baldwin and Christopher bring to election day and early voting is invaluable. “You don’t have to retrain workers. Anything that comes up, they have probably experienced it a time or two. If I had all new workers at each of my precincts, I’d be concerned. Having experienced workers means I know they will take care of whatever comes up, and, if they can’t, they know to call us,” said Breeding.