SEBRING — Penny Ogg had three purposes Thursday evening: to thank 235 poll workers, to hand out longevity awards, and sensitivity training.
“You do a wonderful job,” said the supervisor of elections. “I’ve been where you are, and I know what goes on on election day.”
“Some of us have been doing elections for a long time now, and for some of you it’s first time,” Ogg said.
In fact, there were 36 new faces at the 2014 poll worker training inside Bert Harris Jr. Agri-Civic Center. At Tuesday’s primary they will check ID cards, be certain that voters are at the right polling place, that voter signatures match what’s on file at the Highlands County election office, and ascertain whether the voter in front of them hasn’t already sent an absentee ballot.
If there’s a hitch in the system, poll workers may have to ask the voter to use a provisional ballot.
“Be sure you fill out the information on the back,” Ogg said. “Sometimes, you get in a hurry, I know that, I’ve been there.”
Ogg, who was elected in November 2012, has worked for the Highlands County Elections Office for nine years, but this is her first time at the helm. That didn’t show Thursday night.
“Take the extra second to make sure you note everything that you can. If someone knows that person, that helps the judge,” Ogg said. The canvassing board will later look at the provisional ballot. If the voter simply didn’t bring an ID, but a poll worker knows the voter and can attest to his or her identity, the county judge can more easily decide whether to count the ballot.
Keep provisional ballots in a special envelope so they’re not scanned, Ogg said.
“It is imperative that you call in provisional ballots. In 2012, we had ...” she paused to look at Deputy Supervisor Karen Kensinger, “290 provisional ballots.”
Clerks must call before they shut down the polling place and come to the downtown Sebring headquarters. “We’re like your worried mother on Election Night,” Ogg said. “We want to know where you are.”
“We have a situation on our ballot that you may be asked about,” Ogg warned. Circuit Judge candidate Christine Thornhill withdrew after the deadline, so her name is on the ballot. Michelle Pincket will be declared the winner.
After a 10-minute break so that clerks could talk to their polling place workers, Ogg started on disability sensitivity training.
“Our job is to make their experience extraordinary,” Ogg said.
Voters may have trouble walking, thinking, seeing, speaking or hearing, Ogg said. They may have had recent surgery, learning disabilities, debilitating fatigue, brain injuries, cognitive dysfunctions or mental disorders.
Or maybe they’ll just be upset. “They don’t have to have a reason to be upset, they’re just upset,” Ogg said, drawing a laugh.
She suggested that the poll worker’s best defense is “a gentle word, a good smile. Speak slowly and clearly, give detailed instructions, and speak directly to the voter. Clear, gentle, calm, detailed instructions. Be courteous, make eye contact with the person you are speaking to.”
Poll workers will have to deal with frustration and anger while retaining respect and upholding election laws, Ogg said, and that includes the voter’s absolute right to cast a legal ballot.
“Stand up for the rights of the voter,” Ogg urged.
Tuesday’s ballot includes gubernatorial primary, school board, county sales tax referendum
Early voting continues until 4 p.m. Saturday(today) at the election supervisor’s training facility, 4500 Kenilworth Blvd.; the Avon Park City Council meeting room, or Lake Placid Town Hall.
The 25 regular polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.