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Boone County election judge reveals rewarding side of work

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 | 6:23 p.m. CDT; updated 12:02 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Election Judge Betty Sheridan helps Kim Buckman get set up to vote at Liberty Baptist Church on Tuesday, August 8, 2008. Among other things, Sheridan is responsible for making sure that voters vote in the correct location, that nobody votes twice and to make sure everything involved with the process is secure and accurate.

COLUMBIA - Betty Sheridan hardly sleeps the night before a Boone County election; she's afraid she won't wake up on time.

On Tuesday she awoke at 3:55 a.m. - five minutes before her alarm went off - to unlock the doors of the Liberty Baptist Church gym by 4:30 a.m.

Sheridan has been a Boone County election judge for the past decade and during Tuesday's primary election was a supervisor at Liberty Baptist Church in northeast Columbia - aka polling station No. 17.

She was joined by five election judges and one other supervisor: three Democrats, three Republicans and one independent in total.

Election judges earn $120 for the day plus $25 per training session, and supervisors can earn up to $135. But Sheridan has further reason to help facilitate democracy in her precinct.

"I just enjoy visiting with the community," she said.

Although election officials are discouraged from chatting with voters, Sheridan can't help but acknowledge familiar faces that stroll into the gym between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m., presenting her with IDs with names she already knows.

"There's Patty," Sheridan said. "She has lunch with our Red Hat group."

Sheridan finds the friend's name in the binder and hands her a slip of paper.

"This is new," the friend observes.

"One more paper trail, Patty," Sheridan says.

Next comes Patty's husband, whom Sheridan knows because she went to high school with his twin brothers.

"We have a permanent neighborhood, more or less," Sheridan explains.

As result, she has become attuned to the idiosyncrasies of the precinct:

"We've got someone who always votes (as a write-in) Donald Duck," she said.

Sheridan has been a member of the community for 55 years and still lives on Sheridan Road, named for the farm owned by her late husband's grandparents.

She spent several years working in the alumni office at MU, where she later earned her education degree. She next spent 22 years teaching second grade in Hallsville and Harrisburg.

Sheridan often sees her former students at the polling station, and sometimes they bring their kids along.

More than 1,000 voters are registered at the precinct, and Sheridan said she had read that Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren expected about a 36 percent turnout. Kevin Kelly, one of the election judges, said the precinct saw about 1,000 voters in the 2004 presidential election.

When the gym is relatively empty - which is most of day - the election judges enjoy the quiet and the air conditioning. They take short walks to the kitchen for snacks and coffee. One judge reads a magazine, another reads a David Baldacci novel.

Sheridan flips through her vacation photos from a 10-day trip she took to Nova Scotia in July, including pictures of Anne of Green Gables' home on Prince Edward Island. The group trip was sponsored by the Boone County National Bank Classic.

In some ways, election day itself is no more work than the preparation that goes into it:

On Monday afternoon, Sheridan and the six other officials met at the gym to run down the supplies checklist: Post-it Notes, "I Voted" stickers, regular masking tape, sample ballots (two sets for each party), printer paper for the iVotronic (touch-screen) results, a disabled voter sign, a button-down shirt ...

The gray, button-down shirt is a new item this year. Because state law prohibits campaigning within a certain distance of the polling booths, election judges must request that voters wearing campaign T-shirts, etc. turn them inside-out - or cover up with the gray shirt.

It seldom happens, but it's good to be prepared.

The judges also devised an action plan in case of a tornado or other natural disaster, determining who would grab the ballots, who would grab the touch-screen machine, etc., and run them out of the building.

On Monday night, Sheridan was responsible for taking home the ballot bags because they couldn't be left in the gym overnight: yet another reason to wake up early.

On non-election days, Sheridan enjoys crocheting, knitting and attending monthly luncheons of the Red Hat Society at various restaurants throughout the county.

She also serves on the Boone County Historical Society board and volunteers at Boone Hospital Center once a week, working with patients recovering from joint-replacement surgeries.

"I don't have time to stay at home," Sheridan said.

"I'll stay at home when I get old."

 


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