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She helps keep the voters moving

Working as an election judge can make for some long days, but Nancy Bjerke figures its one way she can contribute to the community.

As an assistant to the superintendent, Nancy Bjerke spent more than a decade running elections for the Farmington School District. She's retired now, but you'll still find her at the polls on Election Day.

Bjerke is one member of the crew of election judges that kept things running during Tuesday's election. From setting up polling places to counting ballots to packing everything up at the end of the day, she and others like her are responsible for making sure everybody who wants to vote gets a chance to.

Getting all of that done makes for a long day, but Bjerke enjoys it and she feels like it's an area where she's well qualified to give back to the community. We talked to her on the eve of this year's election to find out what the job is all about.

So, you retired from the school district and said, "I just love elections so much I want to keep being involved in them"?

Well, since it was an area I had knowledge and training I thought that was an area I could serve. There's a need out there, I know.

Did you just jump right in after you retired?

I did. Elections now aren't really run by the school anymore unless there's a levy, so the city has been involved. They contacted me.

They recruited you?

I was recruited.

Do you like it?

It's very interesting. It's enjoyable. It's hard work. It's a long, hard day and a lot of detail. Everything has to be precise. We try to make everything perfect. It's a pretty stressful day. But it's something that needs to be done.

What do you actually do on election day?

I arrive at 6 in the morning, but I usually set my precinct up the night before, do everything I can, because there's so many things to take care of. Then we take care of the paperwork. We get the machines tested. We have to run through everything. We have to run a tape to make sure the names are right and everything is right on your ballot. You have to sign in and swear in the judges. We get the Automark ready. Get the other machine ready. Then you have to start counting ballots. We have to account for every ballot that comes to us. We have to sign all the ballots. Two judges have to sign all the ballots. Initial them. Two judges of different parties. We have to get all that ready before people start coming so we have ballots ready for them. And we have to have people in their assigned duties. People have to be ready to register people who haven't voted in that precinct before and then people have to be ready to sign in those that are registered and are on our rosters. then we're ready for the onslaught.

Is it kind of crazy when people start showing up?

It can be at different times. They can be waiting outside. General elections and of course presidential are always the biggest. There will be a small line outside before opening time at 7. It comes at different times during the day. After work can be crazy. We just ask for people's patience. There are certain steps that have to be taken, especially with people who register. If they can come prepared with identification they need it helps the process along. Sometimes they just aren't aware of what they need to prove they are living in this precinct. and they have to be able to do that or we can't allow them to vote. They can become frustrated. If they can be informed and they can be patient we have to do it correctly.

Are most people patient or understanding?

Most people are. Very much so. Most people are very patient, but it does get frustrating when some people don't know where they should vote and they maybe go to one precinct and then they come to yours and they're still not at the right one. But we have less and less of that. People are becoming more informed.

Is it kind of neat to be part of the process?

It is fun to be part of the process. It is fun to get home and see what's happening. Now they've always predicted it before it ever ends. It's always kind of fun to see how things are rolling in. The end of the day is very hectic as the polls close because people are tired and ready to be heading home as soon as possible. But there's lots of wrap-up and paperwork to do then.

When does your day usually end?

If we're lucky we'll be home by 10. That's if there's no glitches.

I would hope you get a few breaks between there.

Well, no one leaves the precinct. Some judges work half a day if they choose to but they do bring us a little lunch and a little dinner and we try to take turns and get a little time there. During the primary we had lots of breaks.... But it's a good dress rehearsal.

It gets to be a long day.

It is a long day. When I was in charge of elections for the school district I always sympathised. Many people are retired and are not used to working an eight hour day and now are working a 16 hour day. Now I'm doing that myself and it does get tiring.

But you keep doing it.

I do. As long as I can I probably will. Someone has to do it.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606