When Lori Hein turned the legal voting age of 18, not only did she cast her vote in her first eligible election — she also worked the polls in Harvey County as a volunteer.
That was back in 1976 — the year America celebrated its bicentennial — and the 64-year-old Hein has worked almost every election but a couple since then.
County election offices rely on community members like Hein to work polling places during elections. While often called volunteers, the workers receive compensation. Generally it’s around minimum wage, which is $7.25 in Kansas, for an election day shift that lasts at least 14 hours. Supervising judges earn around $10 an hour in The Active Age’s readership area of Sedgwick, Harvey and Butler counties.
Hein and two poll workers from Sedgwick County say it’s definitely not the pay that motivates them to work the polls. It comes from a sense of service to others, with a side of getting to see neighbors, friends and other community residents who come together to practice their right to vote and have a say in who holds office or other government actions like constitutional amendments.
“It’s not about the money – even though they pay for doing it,” said Bill Gale Jr., a Vietnam War veteran who started working the polls 14 years ago when his son was the Sedgwick County election commissioner. “I do it to get out and help others. I’m a veteran, so I like doing public work.”
“The people I’ve worked with over the years have all been there because they think it’s an important process,” Hein said.
During the primary, 62 volunteers worked in Harvey County’s 12 polling centers, according to Rick Piepho, who’s been county clerk since 2014. His office has a list of about 100 people who’ve volunteered to work, so there’s been no shortage of poll workers, the majority of whom have been senior citizens, he said.
Butler County also has more volunteers than it tends to need, said Tatum Stafford, the clerk there.
Sedgwick County, which is planning to raise its compensation next year to $8.50 for poll workers, according to elections commissioner Angela Caudillo, is actively recruiting volunteers.
Hein’s sense of civic duty comes from her love of history that was spurred by a high school teacher named Mr. Andrews, a longtime interest in the election process and her family’s emphasis on serving one’s community.
She ticked off the various civic duties different family members have done: Her dad worked with the school board, a couple of cousins were city government workers, and a sister is an election volunteer in Marion County. Hein’s 93-year-old mother worked polls up until her late 70s, Hein said.
“Service to communities has always been important to my family, and voting goes along with it,” said Hein, who has been the business manager for the Newton Recreation Commission for the past 25 years. Her previous jobs included working at Bethel College, AT&T and the Kauffman Museum.
“No matter what job I’ve had, I’ve taken vacation time to (volunteer). Everyone knows that come Election Day, I’m not going to be there,” Hein said.
During the 46 years Hein has worked the elections in Harvey County, she’s done various duties and has seen lots of changes.
In her first elections, she worked on the counting boards, whose job was to hand count and tabulate the paper ballots. For a while, she checked in people on the poll books and gave out ballots. She’s seen the transition to a more digitized system of voting.
For the past two decades, she’s been a supervising judge, generally in charge of the multiprecinct polling center at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Newtown.
A secure system
One thing that hasn’t changed is Hein’s belief in the integrity of the voting process.
“I don’t know how they do things in other parts of the country, but I have always been incredibly impressed with how Harvey County runs their elections, and I have never had any doubt that it’s been an accurate system. The margin for human error is so small that it wouldn’t make a difference,” said Hein.
Gale, 74, and fellow Sedgwick County poll volunteer Margie Adair, 75, echoed her trust in the process. Gale is a Democrat, while Adair is a Republican. Like Hein, Adair and Gale are supervising judges.
“I think people just don’t understand the system and that’s why you hear these things (about election fraud). But there are so many checks and balances.”
Volunteers must attend paid training before each election and must be able to work generally from about 5 a.m. until the polls close on Election Day. Depending on availability, volunteers can also work early voting places.
How to volunteer:
• Butler County: contact the county clerk’s office at 316-322-4239.
• Harvey County: Download an election worker application at hvcoksvote.gov/forms-links, or contact the clerk’s office at 316-284-6840.
• Sedgwick County: apply online at sedgwickcounty.org/elections/be-an-election-worker/ or call the elections office at 316-660-1700.