First-time Oklahoma poll worker describes long day helping with Tuesday's historic election
ENID — From before the polls opened until the last ballot was cast at Precinct No. 308, Romy Owens got a behind-the-scenes perspective on Tuesday's historic election.
The Enid artist was one of more than 5,800 Oklahomans statewide to volunteer Tuesday as poll workers.
"It was fascinating," Owens said. "There were two pros and two newbies at our station, so I learned a lot from them just about how to handle different situations."
A first-time poll worker, Owens spent Tuesday at the Grace Mennonite Church, which serves a small section of Enid's west side and rural communities north and west of the town of Carrier.
"There were very few complications. But there were a handful of people who'd show up and not be on our roll, or something like they had gotten an absentee ballot and now they are here to vote, and there are very specific steps (for that)," she said.
Poll workers verify voter IDs and ensure that every voter has the opportunity to cast their ballot in a safe environment. That was no small task Tuesday, considering the election drew a heavy turnout amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Oklahoma voters set a record for the most votes ever cast for president in the history of our state," Paul Ziriax, secretary of the State Election Board, said in a statement Wednesday.
"Considering this was a Presidential General Election conducted during a pandemic, one week after a major ice storm, with a record level of voter participation, it went fairly smoothly. I am very proud of our county election officials, poll workers, and State Election Board staff for their perseverance, professionalism and dedication to free and fair elections."
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Each precinct needs at least three poll workers, said Misha Mohr, the State Election Board's public information officer, and county election board secretaries may opt to recruit more to help out or serve as backups. With 1,938 polling places around the state, that means thousands of volunteer poll workers were needed for the election.
"We can't do it without them," she said. "They're there before 7 (a.m.) and then after the polls close and until they're no longer needed. So, it's a long day."
Poll workers go through mandatory training and serve in the county where they are registered to vote. They are paid $110 or $100 for the day, depending on the role they play, and may be eligible for mileage reimbursement.
"It was really interesting. I'm so glad I did it. And I'm no stranger to a 14-hour day, but ... I'm so tired," Owens said by phone about 30 minutes after the polls closed Tuesday night. "The first two hours were our busiest, and it felt like we'd been there for seven hours. Then, the last two hours were brutal and just took forever."
Her mother, Nancy Martin, who died in 2016, used to volunteer as a poll worker. Although she was nervous about exposure to COVID-19, Owens said she decided to follow in her mom's footsteps this election.
"I was like, 'No, you know what, younger people ought to be doing this if they can — and I can. So, I did. And I would do it again," Owens said.