November 5, 2008
Poll workers across county put in a long day
More than 100 people manned the voting machines at the county’s 28 polling places
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Poll worker Jim VanNortwick explains the new voting machine to Cortland resident Dorothy Troike Tuesday afternoon at the New York State Grange headquarters on Clinton Avenue. VanNortwick has worked at the local polls since 1991.
Before casting her ballot, Cortland resident Theresa Tyrell pulled off her sock to show poll workers a discolored toe.
“I hope you don’t get too grossed out,” she said, adding that she came out to vote despite being in a lot of pain.
Poll worker Kay Smith cringed slightly and flipped through the book of voter registrations.
Smith, Jim VanNortwick and Nancy Sickmon aided Tyrell and more than 700 other voters who came to the New York State Grange Building to decide the outcome of the longest presidential campaign in U.S. history.
As one of more than 100 Cortland County poll workers, VanNortwick volunteered to work the elections after he retired from his job as a high school guidance counselor in 1991. He said he enjoys meeting new people and feels good about performing a civic duty.
“This is a free country,” he added. “Why not work to keep it that way?”
Normally, VanNortwick has drunk a cup of coffee, been to Mass at St. Mary’s Church, and stopped at McDonald’s for breakfast before 9 a.m. Poll workers are paid $160 for the day.
But on Tuesday, he found time for his cup of coffee but had barely started a crossword puzzle.
“Things have been fairly steady,” said VanNortwick, who has worked the polls for every presidential election since Bill Clinton’s first term in 1992.
“A lot more young people have come out to vote, which is good,” VanNortwick said, adding that an unusually large number of people had also used affidavit ballots, which are filled out when residents’ names cannot be found in the lists of registered voters.
The county must verify the registrations before counting these paper ballots.
By 6:30 p.m., records indicated that about 720 people — which is more than 50 percent of the precinct’s registered voters — cast their ballot in the Grange Building.
By that time, Smith had also taken over the crossword and penciled in a dozen answers to clues.
“We sort of munch our way through the day,” said Sickmon as she finished off a helping of homemade apple crisp. The workers also brought apples, chili, cookies, doughnuts and blueberry muffins to eat during the 16-hour day.
Though the stream of voters remained steady, the Grange Building did not experience the long lines reported in several major cities.
The next year might be completely different, when the county begins using 31 new electronic voting machines, VanNortwick said.
“But it looks so shiny and new,” Smith added, about the new machine, which no voters requested to use in District 6 on Tuesday.
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