Longevity at the polls


Joan Burns, right, has been a poll worker for more than 60 years. She says she enjoys being in the community and seeing people she knows. This morning about 7 a.m., Burns’ neighbor, Brande Vollrath came in to vote. Burns said she used to know almost everyone who came to vote, but the community is changing.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Mac Cordell)
Joan Burns has been working elections for six decades
This morning, Joan Burns is at church.
It’s not that she is particularly religious in the predawn hours of a Tuesday morning, but that’s where the Milford Center polls are. It is the same place she has been every Election Day for more than six decades
Burns, who doesn’t give her age but said she was born in 1931 and will have a birthday later this month, said she began volunteering as a poll worker, “somewhere around 1956.”
“It was a big election,” said Burns, though she admitted she doesn’t remember who was running, “maybe Gov. Rhodes,” she said.
What does she remember most about that election? She said the state was interested in the vote count and wanted updates throughout the day. She said precinct officials had to count the paper ballots by hand several times before the polls even closed.
“It was a long day,” Burns said. “I remember that. It was a long day.”
Burns said she started early and didn’t get done until 2 a.m. she said.
“It is a lot easier now,” Burns said. “It is a much shorter day.”
Burns, who does not have a computer or Internet access, credits technology for making the process easier.
“The computer does all the work for us. We just close everything up and hope it all comes out right,” she said.
Burns added that it seems like voters feel more secure, not less, with the technology.
“I think they feel more comfortable with their vote now, “ she said.
While technology has made Election Day easier for poll workers, Burns said it has made it more difficult for voters leading up to Election Day.
“Things are very different now,” Burns said. “T.V. and radio and things make a big difference,” Burns said.
She explained that in years past, candidates delivered their message personally. She said political hopefuls would canvass the neighborhood knocking on doors and meeting voters.
“Now it’s all on T.V. or radio, sometimes maybe you will get a phone call,” she said.
“It’s totally different,” Burns said.
She said the country is “disgraced by our elections right now.”
“I think there are a lot of people who, once they’ve seen how it turns out, wish they could change the way they voted,” Burns said.
She said politicians have an obligation to act dignified and voters struggle to know how to tell the truth from lies in many elections.
She added that, “unfortunately, and maybe I shouldn’t say it, but money talks. That’s the sad part of it.”
For Burns, it is not about the money.
“It’s everybody’s duty to take part in the election,” Burns said.
She said, what started as a civic obligation has turned into something she looks forward to.
“I just enjoy getting out and meeting people in the community,” Burns said.
Burns said she used to know almost every one who would come to vote in the precinct.
“I know less and less these days,” Burns said. “It used to be it was mainly family and relatives, at least some places.”
This morning she was at the Trinity Chapel Church in Milford Center. She said her first election she worked in Unionville Center. She said she has always been proud that Election Day has run smoothly in her precincts and there has rarely been a line to vote. She said people are inpatient these days and do not want to wait.
Still, she said poll workers know who will be waiting at the doors to cast a vote.
“We know that if they aren’t there, something is wrong,” Burns joked.
Many that come to vote know her as well.
“I just enjoy working them (voting polls) and I am going to continue as long as I am able,” Burns said.

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