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Defending democracy: County clerk protects ballots on Election Day

  • 2 min to read
Defending democracy: County clerk protects ballots on Election Day

The nearly full moon worked with the street lamps to light downtown Columbia early Tuesday morning. It was just before 4 a.m., and the parking lot of First Christian Church was nearly empty, except for one car. Brianna Lennon collected her things and got out — it was time for work.

It was not an average day, though. It was Election Day, and because Lennon is the Boone County Clerk, she’s responsible for the whole county’s election process.

Brianna Lennon addresses staffers and volunteers as the sounds of ringing phones filled the the Boone County Clerk’s office

Brianna Lennon addresses staffers and volunteers Tuesday as the sounds of ringing phones fill the the Boone County Clerk’s Office. The day of the 2020 election started off with a server issue affecting polling places. A complication caused syncing issues between the server and polling places — the only people affected were those needing to change their address on the day of the election, according to Lennon. The issue didn't last long and it was relatively smooth sailing from then on.

Brianna Lennon is responsible for one of the biggest parts of American democracy: election

Brianna Lennon is responsible for one of the biggest parts of American democracy: elections. As the Boone County clerk, she runs the office in charge of reporting votes. Her Election Day started around 3:30 a.m. and ended just past midnight. “I have always really loved elections,” Lennon said. “I did a few internships related to elections. I joined the Secretary of State’s Office in 2013. … I mean I basically fell in love with elections and wanted to work with them at a more local level.”

“I just really enjoy the process of election administration and being a part of the core activity that keeps democracy working,” Lennon said.

Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon, left, and her Director of Elections, Art Auer, discuss processing absentee ballots and confirming absentee totals

Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon, left, and Director of Elections Art Auer discuss processing absentee ballots and confirming absentee totals. The ballots were all processed on Election Day. Any ballots which the machine deemed worth double-checking were inspected by hand, and the voters were confirmed in the system.

Her office worked toward Tuesday’s election all year, refining its game plan with each round of elections — beginning in March before COVID-19 even reached Boone County, adding coronavirus protections for the June municipal elections and further improving things after the primaries in June.

Jessica Owens and Ragini Algole work on a poll pad before polls open on Election Day 2020 at the Boone County Clerk’s Office

Jessica Owens and Ragini Algole work on a poll pad before polls open on Election Day 2020 at the Boone County Clerk’s Office. The two spent most of the day answering phones and troubleshooting different issues that voters and workers ran into at different polling places all over Boone County.

Director of Elections Art Auer and Polling Place Operations Manager Gary Roberts coordinate before Roberts has to go take equipment to one of Boone County’s 77 polling places.

Director of Elections Art Auer and Polling Place Operations Manager Gary Roberts coordinate before Roberts has to go take equipment to one of Boone County’s 77 polling places.

Alyssa Patzivs and other Election Day volunteers and staff took phone calls from polling places and voters for most of the day

Alyssa Patzivs and other Election Day volunteers and staff took phone calls from polling places and voters for most of the day. They made sure eligible voters who were having trouble with the polling process were able to get in to vote and explained to those who weren’t eligible to vote what they needed to do to be able to vote in the next election.

Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon takes a minute to eat lunch while continuing her work

Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon takes a minute to eat lunch while continuing her work. As an Election Day tradition, Booches brought a bag of burgers down to the county clerk’s office. “This year we’ve had Booches for the office for every election,” Lennon said.

“Really, this is something that, throughout the course of the year, all the decisions made along the way were made with the thought that this would culminate in a presidential election,” Lennon said.

Absentee ballots fly through a vote counting machine as voting for the 2020 election gets underway in Boone County

Absentee ballots fly through a vote-counting machine as voting for the 2020 election gets underway in Boone County.

Art Auer laughs at a joke made by a coworker in the early morning of Election Day 2020

Art Auer laughs at a joke made by a co-worker in the early morning of Election Day 2020. Auer has been the director of elections at the Boone County Clerk’s Office for almost 35 years.

Brianna Lennon speaks with a poll worker at Mizzou Arena during the 2020 election

Brianna Lennon speaks with a poll worker at Mizzou Arena during the 2020 election. The arena was one of two central polling places in Boone County; the other was at the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center in downtown Columbia.

A row of USB sticks sit on a desk in the counting room of the Boone County Clerk’s office

A row of USB sticks sit on a desk Tuesday in the counting room of the Boone County Clerk’s Office. Each of the sticks contained the voting data from one polling machine. There were over 80 usb sticks.

Beverly Braun takes a box of election material from Rebecca Jennings and Kristen Ross near the end of election night

Beverly Braun takes a box of election material from Rebecca Jennings and Kristen Ross near the end of election night. Jennings and Ross ran packages containing USB sticks with voting information on them from the ground floor of the Roger B. Wilson Government Center — where they were gathered by returning election judges — up to the County Clerk’s Office, where votes were tabulated.

As the night winds down, Megan Harney crosses out precincts that have delivered their voting data back to the Boone County Clerk’s Office

As the night winds down, Megan Harney crosses out precincts that have delivered their voting data back to the Boone County Clerk’s Office. Harney was one of the members of a team of two bipartisan election judges who counted absentee ballots and rectified any discrepancies within them.

Jason Russell, left, and Linda Brown cheer as they leave the Boone County Government Building

Jason Russell, left, and Linda Brown cheer as they leave the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center. The two were the first election judges back with all their gear and polling information after polls closed at 7 p.m.

But that sort of work is one of the things Lennon enjoys most about the job.

“I really like problem solving,” she said. “I have always really loved elections. I did a few internships related to elections. I joined the Secretary of State’s Office in 2013. … I mean, I basically fell in love with elections and wanted to work with them at a more local level."

Bursts of activity are followed by periods of mostly silent waiting in the counting room of the Boone County Clerk’s Office as each polling station’s vote totals are read by the computer

Bursts of activity are followed by periods of mostly silent waiting in the counting room of the Boone County Clerk’s Office as each polling station’s vote totals are read by the computer. “I just really enjoy the process of election administration and being a part of the core activity that keeps democracy working,” Brianna Lennon, Boone County clerk, said. “I’m exceptionally nerdy.”

  • I'm a photojournalism masters student at MU.

  • Staff Photographer, spring 2020 Studying Convergence: Photojournalism and Russian Reach me at eludn5@missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at (573) 882-5720

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