Final election column of the year

by San Juan County Auditor F. Milene Henley

The votes are counted, and the results certified. It is my hope that those of you who have read along with me this year understand the election process a little better than you did a year ago, and that you trust that the election process is secure.

To complete the year, here’s a random selection of moments which warm the hearts of Elections workers, and keep us coming back for more.

Hold the ferry! One November Election Day not long ago, an enthusiastic young voter called to say that he and two friends were coming over from Orcas to vote. They were registered in another state, but had heard that they could vote provisional ballots that would be forwarded to their state. Elections staff prepared ballots for them and had everything ready so they could run up from the ferry, vote, and run back to the terminal in time to catch the same ferry back to Orcas (because otherwise they would spend the night in Friday Harbor). With time running short, another voter ran down to the dock to ask the ferry workers to hold the ferry just a couple more minutes. The captain waited, the young voters ran back to the ferry, and three more ballots were counted that year.

Keeping watch. The ballot boxes on Lopez and Orcas are emptied at least once during each voting period, in addition to the final emptying on Election Day. This November, we emptied both boxes twice during the voting period. Nonetheless, on Election Day, an alert County employee on Orcas called the Elections Office to tell us that the box was so full, it looked as if one could reach inside and grab ballots. While we hurried to recruit a volunteer pilot to fly us over to Orcas, the County employee on Orcas stood guard over the ballot box to make sure nobody messed with it. We flew in (literally), emptied the box, chatted with some Orcas voters, and left behind an empty box ready for more Orcas ballots.

It’s never too late. It’s not unusual for Elections staff to assist voters with disabilities curbside in front of the Elections office. One year, a 91-year-old woman, who had never been registered to vote, had a friend drive her to the office (in her pajamas and bathrobe), so that she could register. Staff took the forms out to the car and helped her fill them out while she stayed comfortably in her car. That year, a new voter was born.

Going postal. This year a couple from San Juan County were temporarily in California during the voting period. They had received their ballots, voted and mailed them in plenty of time. Unfortunately, their local post office mistakenly returned the ballots to the voters. The husband, after what he described as a “heated discussion” with the post office, convinced the post office to re-mail the ballots to us. But by then, our voters were worried that if anything went wrong with the mail again, their ballots might not reach us in time to be counted. They called the Elections office, and staff told them about voting through Our voters weren’t tech savvy, but went to a local library, where the librarians helped them to find, print and vote their ballots.

The kindness of others. In each of these cases, voters were assisted not just by Elections staff, but also by others. That kind of commitment to participation in the voting process is what keeps us, as Elections workers, going. During this busy election year, many voters took the time to check in on us, calling and even coming in to the office just to thank Doris, Carlys, and our amazing “A-Team” of Elections Workers for being there and doing their difficult and extremely important jobs.

Thank you for your participation. Thank you for caring. Most of all, thank you for voting.