XENIA — For first time in modern Ohio history, Ohio’s judges and lawyers were allowed to sit as poll workers on election day.
In August, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor partnered with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to suspend restrictions on judges as poll workers. For Judge Stephen Wolaver, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Wolaver, a judge in Greene County Common Pleas Court, has a long history of public service — 44 years, to be exact.
“It was really a tremendous experience to see the democratic process, more hands-on than usual,” he said.
Under normal circumstances, elected officials are barred from being poll workers due to the nature of their office. However, due to COVID-19, Ohio lawmakers expected a shortfall of poll workers for the November election. Most poll workers are older Americans, who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than young people.
As a judge, the nature of Wolaver’s job is to be objective. Being a poll worker is no different. The integrity of the process requires Democrats and Republicans to work together. On Nov. 3, Americans of all stripes came together to ensure that the voting process was as smooth as possible.
Wolaver, who wore a Republican tag, worked with his Democratic partner to, in his words, “lend cooperation and verification to the process.”
“The people I worked with were absolutely spectacular,” he said. “Veteran poll workers, first-time workers like myself, we blended wonderfully together. Those with experience could give us advice, and we had a great time talking to people who came in to vote.”
Wolaver initially signed up with the Greene County Board of Elections with the Chief Justice’s approval, and went to training in October. On election day, when he first arrived at the polling place at 5:30 a.m., six people were already waiting outside. Once Wolaver and the other poll workers opened their doors an hour later, a steady stream of citizens came through to vote until the rush died down around 9:30.
“We had plenty of workers,” Wolaver said. “I thought it was going to be a fairly sedentary job, but it’s very involved.”
Poll workers regularly rotate their stations. The judge said he enjoyed working at check-in. At one point, Wolaver became a runner, taking voting machine cards back to the front desk after proper cleaning. According to his Fitbit, Wolaver clocked about 16,000 steps in a single session.
“You don’t go into this thinking this is going to be an easy day,” he said. “There’s a lot of dedicated people that want to see this done right.”
After 9:30 a.m., things cleared up quite a bit. Once the polls closed at 9 p.m., everyone broke the machines down, cleaned up, and — save for the location managers — left by about 9:30 p.m.
Though poll workers receive some monetary compensation for their time, Wolaver and other judges instead received four hours of continuing legal education, which he says was well worth it. More so, if given the opportunity, he said he would certainly do it again.
“What I learned is that Ohio does it right,” Wolaver said. “If all the states do it the way Ohio does, the integrity of the voting process is without question.”
With the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel firmly in sight, it is likely that the restrictions on attorneys as poll workers will go back into effect. Ultimately, that is a decision reserved for the Ohio Supreme Court. However, Wolaver may yet get the opportunity to work the polls again, as he is retiring at the end of this year.
“Being a judge is considered the peak of a career as a lawyer, but I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to truly serve the people,” he said.
Reach London Bishop at (937) 502-4532
or follow @LBishopFDH on Twitter.