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County Hall Corner: Office of Voter Services Needs a Hug

Years ago, I had a boss who had a very annoying habit of giving me tasks with absolutely no clue on how I was to accomplish those tasks. He would come up with a crazy idea and say, “Larry, here is what I want done…” I would counter, “But sir, how exactly do you expect me to do…” And usually before I could finish, he would counter, “Well, that’s your job, you figure it out.”

In talking with Lycoming County Director of Elections and Registration Forrest Lehman, he highlighted the tremendous frustration at the local level of those who must figure out the “how” of the tasks given by the “it’s now your job” decisions of our state legislature and state court system. Do they have any idea the incredible disruption that is created by delaying the final vote count by three days? Do they understand how much work and extra man/woman-hours they generate by simply adding one word to an election directive?

Last week’s County Hall Corner featured the latest mail-in voter information, but there is a team that is behind the scenes that need to be brought out on stage and get more than a little love. This is the very small group that actually makes elections happen here in Lycoming County — the staff of the Office of Voter Services. With just Director Forrest Lehman and Deputy Director Jill Shuman, and clerks Mary-Kay Camp and Susan Johnson, this fab four must respond to thousands of new voter registrations, requests for absentee ballots, answer (non-stop!) voters’ questions and concerns, ensure that all election equipment is ready, line up poll workers and poll watchers, and much, much more before the election ever happens!

And, remember, this is an endeavor with a zero percent margin for error. In every election, every ballot must be accounted for, and every ballot must be counted accurately. Even one vote can change the outcome of an election. If the Office of Voter Services’ job was not hard enough, there have been judges and government officials continually handing down annoying new election mandates.

Everyone in the Office of Voter Services have been working 80 to 90-hour weeks since August. (This is not a misprint!) Director Lehman noted that the staff comes in on Saturdays and Sundays to get their regular work done, primarily because the phones ring non-stop during their regular hours. (I can attest to this personally. I sat down with Director Lehman in his office, and in the first three minutes I heard his phone ring five times. It is hard to even interview someone with the phone constantly ringing).

Besides responding to routine questions about the who, what, when of voting, the staff must also contend with hot news items (otherwise known as rumors) that social media or media outlets float to the public. And as if this were not enough, since they are the lowest rung on the ladder and also the most accessible, the public uses the Voter Services Office to vent their frustrations, which are often quite vile and nasty.

Their work environment is also getting more challenging as the Office of Voter Services is starting to look like an Amazon warehouse with stacks of voter ballots and other voting materials everywhere. Even the storage area for the voting machines is inadequate as the new machines are larger than the ones formerly used.

Speaking of new voting machines, the changes in election laws and procedures are also costing a heck of a lot of money to the county. The new voting equipment that were first used in the spring primary cost $500,000 even after the Commonwealth’s contribution. The ballot counting was so difficult in the spring primary that the annual budget for overtime had already doubled by the end of May.

It is not just Lycoming County that has been struggling with these problems, it’s the same story throughout the state. It is no surprise that sixteen county Voter Services directors have resigned this year due to all these pressures, as have many other employees in these departments. This is why Forrest Lehman, Jill Shuman, Mary-Kay Camp, and Susan Johnson deserve our greatest appreciation and respect. They literally embody the expression of doing more with less.

Do them a huge favor and access before you call or stop in at their office. This website is where to go for probably 99.9 percent of EVERY QUESTION that has been asked of Voter Services in the past couple of months. Give them a break and some love at the same time — don’t call, use the website.

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