“Donna, it didn’t chirp,” said Joe Day, Ellis, who was attending Election Day School at the Ellis County Clerk’s office Wednesday morning.
One of 53 volunteers being trained to run the polls in Ellis County on Nov. 6, Day was being put to the test on the iVotronic touch screen voting machine.
What do you do if a voter walks away from the machine after voting, but before confirming the “thank you” screen, and the iVotronic chirps to alert you, quizzed Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus.
Kansas law requires that two official poll workers manually activate the iVotronic to finalize the voting process, said Maskus, fiddling to get the machine working.
“Now it should be singing to you,” she said. But hopefully voters will get the process right on their own.
“They hit the vote button and forget there’s another screen that confirms they voted. So we stress to them, don’t walk away until you see the ‘thank you’ screen,” Maskus said, ticking off the proper sequence: “Vote, review, confirm, thank you screen.”
This week Maskus and her employees are training the volunteers who will operate the county’s 10 polling sites on Election Day — seven in Hays and one each in Victoria, Ellis and Schoenchen. Each site will have two clerks on the electronic machines, and three judges checking registration and providing ballots.
People can cast either a paper ballot, or vote on one of the 69 iVotronic voting machines. They will be set up the day before by Ellis County Public Works employees.
“I really appreciate them,” Maskus said. “They handle the machines with TLC and that’s why the equipment has lasted as long as it has.”
Until he retired from public works five years ago after 24 years, Day was one of those. Now he continues to do it for the Ellis polling station, and also works Election Day.
“I enjoy doing it. When you retire you need something to do, you can’t just sit at home,” he said. “It’s pretty much fun. You get to see a lot of people.”
Stan Smith-Hanes, Ellis, was also at school Wednesday. He’ll work the Ellis station with Day. Asked why he wanted to volunteer, Smith-Hanes confessed, “Because Donna asked.” Then he added, “and because I’m retired.”
Finding workers isn’t easy Maskus said, in particular because county election officials are tasked with balancing the number of Republican and Democrat workers at the polling stations. Kansas requires that when the polls close on Election Day, one Democrat and one Republican must be in the car together to return the ballots to the County Clerk's Office. In Republican-heavy Ellis County, that can be a challenge, she said.
The county has 8,775 registered Republicans; 4,848 unaffiliated voters; 4,092 Democrats; and 201 Libertarians. Voters can advance vote at the County Clerk's Office, 718 Main St., until noon Nov. 5. On Nov. 6, the polling stations are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Different sites will have different ballots. Some areas of the county will vote for Kansas House of Representatives District 110 seat, while others will vote for the 111th District seat.
That could be tricky at St. Nicholas of Myra Catholic Church in Hays, which serves voters from both districts.
Some areas, but not all, will vote for the open District 1 seat on the Ellis County Commission.
“Each unique ballot is what that voter qualifies for,” Maskus told her volunteers gathered for training in the County Commission room in the basement of the Administrative Center, 718 Main St. “Just make sure they get the right ballot.”
With this election predicted to be close for so many races, approved election observers are allowed at polling stations, if the person is a candidate, a county party chair or a precinct person.They must wear an official badge supplied by the County Clerk's Office.
For her eight volunteers at Wednesday morning’s training, Maskus opened an Election Suitcase, like the ones supplied to each polling station. It holds the day’s necessities: a master personal electronic ballot, magnifiers, signs, ballot envelopes, official aprons, alcohol swabs, plastic bag, doorbell, stylus pen, and a lock and keys for the paper ballot box.
“Do test your lock and key,” before loading the ballots into the box, Maskus directed, recalling that in August the lock on a returned box had to be cut off because the key wouldn’t work.
Maskus urged her students to be alert for anyone attaching stickers, which write-in candidates sometimes provide. The stickers prevent the ballot from going through the counting machine.
Oh, and “do not talk about politics, abortion, campaigning or gossip,” Maskus counseled. “Stick to the weather.” And if a voter mentions a taboo topic, “just shut it down,” she said.
Campaigning is illegal within 250 feet of a polling station, so shirts, pins or hats endorsing a candidate are not allowed. Shirts can be turned inside out, and hats and pins can be removed, she said.
What if a voter asks a worker to help them recall the name of a candidate?
“Do not say the name,” Maskus instructed. “That happened to one of my girls this week, and she handled it very well.”
“If you have any problems with the machines, please let me know,” she said. “They are 12 years old, and we’re starting to see a little wear and tear.”
This year for the first time, the clerk’s office will allow observers when the ballots are counted after the polls close. Hays attorney John Bird made the request, so Maskus said he and others who want to watch can view the process quietly from designated observation areas.
What’s the take-away from today’s class?
“Get everything out and ready by 7,” said Alberta Klaus, Hays, former longtime Ellis County Clerk, who admittedly has an advantage over her fellow students. “That’s it in a nutshell.”