‘We celebrate Election Day!’: Poll worker marks more than 45 years of volunteering during elections

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It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to prepare for an election. Without the 400 or so volunteers who give up their time to serve at polling stations across the county, there would be no way for the county elections office to handle their duties.

For Humboldt County Clerk, Recorder and Registrar of Voters Kelly Sanders, that means coordinating, training and deploying those volunteers and when you have volunteers who have decades of experience, the job becomes a little easier.

“We literally could not conduct an election without our poll workers,” Sanders said Monday, “and we have some very dedicated and very well educated people, like Linda.”

Rio Dell resident and Humboldt County native Linda Bartlett has been a volunteer poll worker for 45 years and she and others run the polling station in Scotia. Once you cast a ballot you get candy and first-time voters also get a cowbell rung in their honor. (Dan Squier — The Times-Standard.)

“Linda” is long-time poll worker volunteer and Rio Dell resident. Linda Bartlett sat down in Sanders’s office for an interview Monday morning. The elections office was busy and there were six workers at the main desk handling the steady flow of people who either wanted to fill out a ballot, had questions about their ballot or who just wanted to drop off their ballot.

“I’ve been a poll worker since I was 21, for more than 45 years,” Bartlett said before she explained her reasons for volunteering. “My husband and I are very civic minded; he joined the fire department and I started out as a substitute poll worker for three years before I went on to become a permanent clerk.”

Bartlett has also served as inspector and she is regularly called upon to instruct other volunteers on the equipment because of her years of experience. It’s not just a civic duty for her, she gets excited as Election Day nears.

She has several reasons why she thinks voting is so important and it starts with the individual voter.

“One, it’s your voice,” Bartlett said. “You may not have a say in a lot of what government does or have the same opinion as someone else, but I’ve always felt it’s important to vote and to know what you are voting on and voting for and how you think things should be.”

Bartlett’s earnestness was almost contagious as she sat and answered questions. When she and three other volunteers take up their normal polling place at the Scotia fire station, it will almost be a party instead of a chore in civic volunteering.

“I’m very excited about tomorrow,” Bartlett said. “We celebrate Election Day and we have for years. Seeing the voters, seeing the generations of voters — we’re starting to see our third generation — and we hand out candy after you have voted and we also give out the ‘I Voted’ stickers as well.”

Bartlett said the candy is a thank you to those who took the time to cast a ballot and they also encourage kids to take part as well, allowing them to stay with their guardian while the adult casts a ballot. They also make sure to make it known when someone has voted for the first time.

“We let the kids stand by their parents so they can learn the process and if you’re a first-time voter and you cast your first ballot, we have a big cowbell that we ring!” Bartlett said and added that she and her crew stick to the old traditions in one other way. “We don’t say ‘the polls are open’ here, we say ‘hear ye, hear ye, the polls are now open.’ We’re the town criers for the voters on Election Day.”

The job of a poll worker is not just sitting around collecting and sorting ballots. Bartlett said that if you have an issue or need help before you leave, you will get everything you need. She also pointed out she and others will take the time to make sure you know what to do and when to do it for the next time Election Day rolls around.

“If you were at my precinct, you’d have your ballot double-checked and if it’s not correct we’re going to fix what is needed before you leave and make sure it’s correct,” Bartlett said. “The issues at our polling location are minimal because we have educated our voters. We get them the forms they need and they know, say if they move from one residence to another, they need to change their registration to reflect the change of address.”

Finding and training people willing to volunteer their time to be a poll worker doesn’t happen by accident and Sanders arranges training sessions across the county as Election Day nears.

Since Oct. 15, the elections office has held 10 training sessions up and down the county. There are also training sessions at the machine lab and refresher courses for returning volunteers, and some of those volunteers like Bartlett are so experienced they are brought back throughout the year to help.

“Linda has been such a dedicated poll worker for us and she is so knowledgeable about the processes and the equipment, we have hired her as a seasonal worker,” Sanders said. “Not only does she know the ins and outs, she helps train other poll workers on the equipment and procedures.”

Polling places open at 7 a.m. and will remain open until 8 p.m. For more information about the election, the ballot or a polling place, contact the elections office at 707-445-7481 or check the website at https://humboldtgov.org/890/Elections-Voter-Registration.

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.

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