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Poll workers get ready to operate the precincts Tuesday

by Sharon Carter

For Charles Garber, Norma Smokey and more than 100 other Douglas County residents, democracy is not a spectator sport.

Tuesday, Garber, Smokey and the others will join thousands of people across the country who will not only vote themselves, but as members of local election boards, will help their fellow citizens have voices in determining the futures of their communities, their states and their country.

It will be a first stint for Garber, 71, a retired commercial contractor who moved here two years ago from Minnesota. Garber is election board chairman of Douglas County’s largest precinct, Indian Hills West, which has 1,228 voters.

“My wife and I volunteered to work the polls,” Garber said. “Now we’re retired, we have the time. I’ll visit and meet some more of my neighbors. I expect it’ll prove interesting.”

Smokey, a dispatcher for the Sierra Front, is the chairwoman of the county’s smallest precinct, Dresslerville, which has 161 voters. A seasoned veteran of the electoral process, Smokey, 47, has worked on election boards so many times neither she nor election coordinators can remember when she didn’t serve.

“It can be the most boring job you’ll ever do, but it’s important that everyone has a voice, so you put your heart into it,” Smokey said. “I want to be there to assist people in any way that I can.”

Smokey credits former precinct chairman Dabert Wyatt with establishing a polling place at the Washoe Tribe’s Dresslerville Colony.

“When they had to go into town to vote, some of the elders – like those who were hard of hearing or needed a little extra help – would get discouraged and not go,” she said. “You’re not going to get rich doing it, but it gives you satisfaction to help people in a good way.”

For token pay far less than the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, Smokey, Garber and 108 other workers at the county’s 33 precincts will arrive at their polling places at about 6:30 a.m. to set up the voting booths, bring in the ballots and ballot boxes the chairmen retrieved the day before, and set up tables, chairs, flags and signs so their neighbors can begin voting at 7 a.m.

The poll workers’ load will be lighter for this primary election because 2,000 people have already voted, choosing the county’s new early voting option, Douglas County Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Reed said.

“We’ve also gotten about 300 absentee ballots back,” she said.

Reed said the county’s voters have aligned themselves into 10 political categories. With a total of 14,729 registered voters, Douglas County’s largest political group is the Republican Party. There are 7,582 registered Democrats and 3,516 Nonpartisans. There are also 464 Independents, 155 Libertarians, eight members each in the Green Party, the Independent American Party and the Reform Party. There are seven registered voters in the Populist Party and five in the Natural Law Party.

“This campaign has been a little quieter and more low-key than others in the past few years, so I don’t really anticipate a big turnout,” Reed said. “Even though it’s slow, we’re hoping for at least 50 percent.”

In some of the precincts, potluck meals will nourish workers. In others, workers will brown bag it, the senior citizens center or a service group will send over lunches. If all goes well, the poll workers’ day will end by about 8 p.m., when election board chairmen and chairwomen leave to deliver their precinct’s ballots to the county clerk in Minden.

It is a scenario which will be played out over and over again across the country. It is a part of the fabric of American life.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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