Meet some of your Johnson County election workers
More than 3,000 people volunteer their time to serve as election workers each year here in Johnson County. Each of them has had different experiences, but all of them share a passion for serving our community. Their commitment and dedication are a large part of what makes our elections run smoothly.
Election Day volunteers need to have a flexible schedule because Election Day runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, with additional time to set up and close the polls. For this reason, most poll workers are either retired or take time off from work or school on election days. Advanced voting locations are also available, staffed by poll workers, with a broader range of dates and times available. Election volunteers are paid a stipend for each day they work, and training is also paid.
Starting Election Day early in the morning, all workers are expected to arrive well rested and stay for the whole work day, bringing all food, medications and personal items they may need.
All new workers attend a 3-hour in-person instructor-led class to take them through the process and roles for the day. An online refresher course is optional for new workers and required for all returning workers. All election workers also attend in-person “Practice Makes Perfect” where they can practice each part of election day in a hands-on, self-paced training session. Supervisor Judges and Assistant Supervisor Judges attend additional in-person training the weekend before the election.
Training for Election Day
Training for Election Day has evolved over the years as technology and election laws have changed. When asked what has changed most during his 20 years as an election worker, Greg Lenz indicated that the check-in system was one of the more significant changes he’s seen. Noting the ease with which the system will help voters who have arrived at the wrong polling place, Lenz said, “It just pops right up and tells them where to go.”
Over his time as an election worker, Lenz has worked at several polling locations, and he remembers how welcoming the facilities have been. One of the churches he was assigned to, several years in a row, had brought in snacks for the volunteers. “People are just like that. They are very supportive, very friendly, and the church staff are just the nicest people.”
He also appreciates seeing the same neighbors coming out to vote each year, greeting each other like old friends. Whether volunteering near their home or in another part of the county, election volunteering is an excellent opportunity to help people in our county.
Stepping up for public service
A newer volunteer, Brady Field, expressed that his students inspired his interest in volunteering. As a local teacher, he wants them to have a first-hand example of stepping up for public service.
Donna Mountain, who started volunteering in 2020, would agree with his reasoning. “I had just recently retired and just felt I should do this. It’s my civic duty,” she said.
One factor in her decision to volunteer was the increased need for new volunteers that year because of the pandemic. This year, she was one of the people helping teach other volunteers during Practice Makes Perfect, walking them through the process for provisional ballots.
For Mountain, educating the voter on the process and how to avoid complications at the provisional ballot table is her favorite job on election day. “This is where you can be the most customer focused. They are coming over with a problem. If you can help them fix it, fix it so that when they walk out of here, they are feeling good about what they did.”
Election stations and supply cages
Another person helping train election workers was Liz Graham. When she started volunteering in 2015, she was motivated to be a part of the process. “If I wanted to make a difference, I needed to be involved," she said.
Her station at Practice Makes Perfect was the ballot scanners which are the last step of the process for all voters. Paper ballots can be marked by hand or on a ballot-marking machine. They are then scanned and deposited into the DS200.
Graham also appreciates the attention to detail the Johnson County Election Office has taken. In the last few years, the Election Office added supply cages to the setup and closing responsibilities.
“Those cages have made it so much nicer,” said Graham. “All of the different stations have their own totes, which make it simple to know where all of the supplies are and where they go at the end of the night.”
Other ways workers assist with elections
Beyond Election Day, various paid volunteers and staff assist with our elections in other ways. These roles include delivering and setting up equipment, helping with voter registration and other tasks to make sure everything is ready for Election Day.
Jena Gravenstein graduated high school in 2020 and saw her temporary job with the Election Office as an extension of the government class she took that year. “Honestly, all of it surprised me. Going to the voting places, all you see is the machines. My first election, I really didn’t know anything about it. Now I am really getting to learn everything about the machines and all of the different aspects of them," she said.
Working at the Election Office has given her a new perspective on the other details. A neighbor had been the one to suggest she come work for the Election Office. She has tried to educate her peers on the opportunity, comparing it to their retail and food service jobs. She encouraged them to try it out and suggested they might be surprised with how much they would learn.
Like mother, like son
Christina Stokes started as a temporary worker at the Election Office about two years ago. Like many other volunteers, she had a friend who was already volunteering who suggested that she get involved as well. In her time working in the office, Christina has had various roles and task assignments. What has surprised her the most is “all of the moving parts and all of the checks and balances” built into our local elections.
Her son Caiden Stokes, 16, is volunteering for the first time this year. He is in the Election Office as a temporary worker leading up to Election Day, and he will volunteer at a polling place on Election Day through the Student Election Worker Program.
In an effort to recruit new poll workers and encourage civic engagement, the Student Election Worker Program provides an opportunity for Kansas high school students to volunteer. Participants must complete training, be at least 16 years old, a United States citizen, willing to take an oath, and if they are of voting age, they must be registered to vote. They receive the same stipend as other election workers. Student workers can make up to one third of election workers at one location. Participating students must also submit a letter of recommendation. Local high schools participating in this program consider Election Day an excused absence.
Polling places in Johnson County
Caiden Stokes was impressed with the number of polling places in Johnson County, 146 total for the August 2022 election. Each task he and Jena Gravenstein completed in the election office would need to be duplicated for each location. Each box packed, each set of “Vote Here” signs rolled, and each group of name tag lanyards put together. The majority of locations serving as polling places are not owned or operated by Johnson County, and the election office relies on community support to provide usage of their space.
Volunteering with our local elections provides a unique opportunity and perspective on the process. The election office is always looking for more workers.
For more information on how to get involved in our local elections and voting, please visit jocoelection.org.