Elections change, some judges stay the same

Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Pictured is the chalk vote-count board used at the Monett precinct in the 1992 election of Bill Clinton. Still marked with vote tallies at many of Barry County's precincts, the board is being housed at Janice and Rod Anderson's farm outside Monett. Contributed photo

Pair of long-time Barry County poll workers share histories

It takes 68 election judges to run the 16 precincts in Barry County each election, and longtime voters in Shell Knob and in Monett have come to see some familiar faces at their local polling places.

Sonja Cooper, of Shell Knob, has been the supervisor at the Central Crossing Fire District precinct in Shell Knob for more than 20 years, taking over the post from her mother, who stepped down at the age of about 78.

"My husband and I worked when Clinton was elected the first time," Cooper said. "Back then, we voted on paper ballots and counted them all by hand. Ballots would go in a box and we could only empty the box when it was full."

Another election judge, Janice Anderson, of Monett, worked the same election after her friend, Ivia Mae Monroe (Mac) asked her to be a judge for the Democratic Party.

"After working [Bill Clinton's] election, I wasn't sure I wanted to continue working," she said. "We were using paper ballots and we became so busy counting the ballots, we were there the next morning at 7 a.m."

In Monett, election judges had a large chalk board where votes were counted. The board today is at Anderson's farm, still containing the vote count from the 1992 election.

"We used the old Y or old armory just off Central," Anderson said. "It was cool in winter and pretty warm in the summer."

Cooper said becoming an election judge is not as simple as signing a sheet.

"We have to go to a class to know what to do and how to do it," Cooper said. "The day before the election, we go out and get all the materials, then we set up everything but the ballots and stickers. On election day, we meet at 5:15-5:30 a.m. and finish the setup, then one of the judges votes to make sure the machine is working."

Anderson said the boxes containing the ballots we locked and watched closely, but that did not stop some voters from voicing displeasure.

"There was one time we had a complaint, that the box was not locked properly," Anderson said. "The complainer was asked not to come in to vote any more. I'm not sure if he got to vote at the clerk's office or not. It was stressful having him come to the voting place and complain to us."

Cooper said down in Shell Knob, lines to vote would get quite long.

"It was hectic," she said. "Usually, the clerk would have to put extra people down here to let people know to have their IDs out so the lines would keep moving. My job was usually to make the call to the clerk if someone was not properly identified."

Shell Knob's location has moved over the years, from the elementary school, to the VFW to the fire department.

"It also used to be just Shell Knob, but now, it's Shell Knob and White River," Cooper said. "[Still], things move much faster now than in the Bill Clinton election, when we had to do it all by hand. We'd take out all the ballots and count them by hand, then write the totals on a piece of paper. Lots of times, we couldn't leave until after 9 p.m., and then we had to take everything to Cassville. Now, we have everything done and get back home by 8:30 p.m."

Anderson said in Monett, it would take an extra 30 minutes just to close the doors, then they had to count and sent the totals to the county clerk.

"We have four to six workers at elections, and most times, we are not as busy as we should be," she said. "People don't think it is as important to come in and cast their vote every time. The presidential elections really get people out. I wish they would get out every time to vote."

Anderson said workers in Monett get a special treat, one even Clerk Gary Youngblood always comes up to partake.

"I make my homemade bread and soup, and we take turns eating in the very nice Casino kitchen," she said. "Gary even makes his rounds near noon so he can eat my soup. Everyone working with me and Brian Martin really do very well together. It makes for a nice day."

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