For many residents, Election Day may be the only time they ever stop into their local government buildings.
In some cases, it only may be once every four years that a trek to the town, village, or city hall is necessary. It is that one day that leaves a lasting impression of the community’s leadership.
Elections come and go. Sometimes they come again like this year’s unprecedented – and unnecessary – presidential recount. The job of the municipal and county clerk is to make sure the elections go seamlessly.
Almost forgotten in the entire process is the behind-the-scenes work that goes into not just the election, but also the running of our local government units in general. There are untold hours dedicated to training poll workers, and the clerks themselves, while attending to the preparation for the big day. It may surprise you to know that the ballots for the April 2017 election are already being turned in as clerks attempt to estimate voter turnout in races that are yet to be determined.
Also unnoticed is the dedication, the extra hours, and the uncompensated time that goes into getting it all just right. In the case of this presidential recount, Sauk County Clerk Becky Evert, her staff, and many of the county municipal clerks (more than 40 of them) spent their Thanksgiving holiday monitoring the progress of Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s looming recount challenge.
Instead of spending dedicated time with family, the time was split between preparing the holiday feast, playing with children or grandchildren, visiting with other relatives, and watching the phone (or checking email) to coordinate staffing and delivery of all of the items necessary to ensure the recount ran smoothly.
Rather than taking Black Friday off to do some shopping and capitalize on the traditional Christmas season sales, many of the clerks were relegated to the office rounding up the necessary supporting documents for delivery to the county building in downtown Baraboo.
The untold hours of compiling the materials and estimated costs are a fraction of the recount work. When the real work began, 14 people per hour were required to manage the process. Most of those volunteers were sequestered into Room 213 for 10 hours a day, five days straight, while breaking only for a quick lunch and dinner. Off by one? Start over.
None of the volunteers made it home to see the kickoff of the Big Ten Championship game and only updates of Sunday’s Packers game against Houston were available. There were no televisions and the workload precluded the concept of watching any sort of feed of the game. Evert and her husband could only check in with their family to see if their kids were having fun at the family’s annual Christmas party.
Evert never complained; nor did her husband. It comes with the territory of elected community servant. Deputy Clerk Sarah Statz had a car accident (along with a wicked cold) while trying to come in for Sunday’s recount during the snowstorm. Lead Deputy Clerk Michelle Cummings, and her husband, never complained about giving up their weekend. Deputy Clerk Autumn Bates was left to manage the office alone on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 while sacrificing her Saturday to fill in the voids where she was needed.
Throughout the five days questions arose. The clerks from Reedsburg, Sauk City, Prairie du Sac and several other communities, all stood by the phone throughout the weekend and were prepared to answer any questions the Board of Canvassers had when minor issues arose.
Late in the afternoon on Monday the recount was finished. What we learned is that errors happen. Many are caused by the voters themselves, while other errors were caused by poll workers who only get to work through the process six times every two years.
The machines were accurate 100 percent of the time. The humans were accurate more than 99.9 percent of the time. In the world of statistics, that is an incredibly accurate system.
Of course, there was also the snowstorm over the weekend that Statz experienced the hard way. The men who operate the county and city snow plows had already put in a more than 40-hour week before being called away from whatever commitments they had to make sure the streets were cleared throughout the day and ready for Monday’s rush hour.
All of these people, and many others, define our civil servants. They are dedicated to their jobs and making sure that things are done right. Our county leaders are the ones who shine thanks to them.