Poll troubleshooter fixes problems at the polls on Election Day

Tuesday, November 6, 2012 | 4:12 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — 74-year-old poll worker John Shewmaker started his Election Day early in the morning. He's the man people call if there's a problem. Shewmaker is a troubleshooter for six polling locations in Boone County.

"If things are going to go wrong, it's early in the morning," Shewmaker said.

The Boone County Clerk’s office is responsible for making local elections run smoothly, so they assemble a group of poll workers, like Shewmaker, to run the poll stations around Boone County. Wendy Noren, the Boone County clerk, is in charge of making this happen.

"When you work for Wendy and you do it her way, things will go well," Shewmaker said. "She was sent to Bosnia twice to help them with their government."

The clerk’s office assembles a group of poll workers who are stationed at each polling station around Boone County. They work a variety of positions that make the voting process as easy as possible.

Shewmaker, a lawyer in Columbia, has been a poll worker for 10 years. He has had various jobs assisting the polls on Election Day, working as an election judge, a supervisor, and as a troubleshooter. This is his second year troubleshooting.

Poll stations call Shewmaker for issues ranging from a need for more thick pens for ballots to computer malfunctions.  

"I've had a least a dozen calls already today," Shewmaker said around 7 a.m.

Shewmaker's job is important, as technical difficulties occur often during Election Day. 

Early this morning at the Activity and Recreation Center polling location, there was a hold-up in the line because the machine was jammed by a black twist tie lodged in the feeder mechanism.

Poll workers realized there was a jam when a voter's ballot would not feed through the machine, Christine Schulte, a poll worker, said. Workers at the station were not  able to fix the machine, so they called for assistance from the county clerk's office.

A technician arrived within 15 minutes, Schulte estimated, and replaced the top feeder mechanism and discovered that the twist tie was causing the jam.

"We don't know how it got there," Schulte said.

To keep the line moving and to reduce the waiting time, poll workers had voters manually insert their ballots until the problem was fixed. By the end of the day, voters will be able to feed their ballots through the machine again.

At the Fairview Road Church of Christ polling location, a similar situation occurred. 

A machine broke in the morning, causing a back up. At one point, there was a line to enter the polling room. Because of the broken machine, people voted manually.

The Armory Sport and Recreation Center polling station saw some changes to the system on Election Day. 

Amy Dickinson, who was volunteering at the station, said a new system where changes in address could be emailed in wasn't working. The station reverted back to the old system where visitors could phone in changes. Dickinson said reverting to the old system wasn't causing any problems. 

As the long Election Day goes on, obstacles are inevitable, Shewmaker said.

"Things can go wrong anytime, you are dealing with equipment that has been used and used and reused," he said. 

Despite the difficulties of the day, Shewmaker thinks highly of the county clerk's work.

"This is an astoundingly run organization," Shewmaker said. "Many things can go wrong, but they run it well." 

Missourian reporters Hilary Niles and Nassim Benchaabane contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Karen Miller.

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