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Politics

Ready for the Big Day

http://66.225.205.104/JR20081103.mp3

There are so many people voting this year that the guy in charge of elections in Mecklenburg County is voting by absentee ballot. "I can't stand in line for an hour and a half," says Michael Dickerson, Mecklenburg County Director of Elections. "I would have 50, 60 phone calls." Good luck even getting through on the phone to Dickerson right now. Or having an uninterrupted conversation. The scale of this year's election has swamped Dickerson's office, going back to March when record numbers of new voters started pouring into the registration files. The primary election saw big turnouts. And by now, you know how huge early voting has been. "It's been Election Day basically for the last two weeks for us," says Dickerson. "And what we're hoping is it's made our election day a little bit lighter." Months ago, Dickerson ordered hundreds of additional machines and staff to handle the throngs of voters. Tomorrow he has 2,300 poll workers lined up to man about 2,000 voting machines at 195 polling locations around Mecklenburg County. On top of all that, Dickerson's also had a lot of anxious candidates to reassure. Last week, Dickerson was in the lobby of the Board of Elections explaining the electronic ballot to Larry Kissell, who had just stopped by. Kissell is in a very close race with Congressman Robin Hayes. Dickerson says most candidates leave his office satisfied. But tight races do increase the pressure on him. "Our prayer is Dear Lord let whoever wins, win big," jokes Dickerson. "But at the same time, we've had close elections in Mecklenburg County before and we're confident in the process we've got so we can guarantee our results." That process hinges on poll workers. At a recent election judge seminar, trainer Steve Hines starts with a discussion about why the poll workers are here: "Some of you probably feel it's your civic duty," he says. "Some of you may feel it puts you on the front lines of democracy. Or maybe it's just that wonderful pay we get as poll workers!" The poll workers laugh knowingly. Their pay is about a hundred bucks. In addition to the hours of training they've been through, poll workers will toil into the evening today setting up their voting sites. Most will return at 5:30 tomorrow morning to boot up the machines and make sure everything is accounted for and ready to roll. Barbara Devenney is in charge of one of the County's largest precinct - Hickory Grove Baptist Church - where she expects more than 3,000 people to cast ballots. Many may have already done so at the early voting site she's been running for the last two weeks. She does it to keep busy in retirement and says it's a break from playing mahjong. Plus, it's a good use of her organizational skills. The only hiccup she's worried about tomorrow is one that's completely out of her control. "It's how long people take to vote," says Devenney. "Most voters are taking six, seven, eight minutes to vote. So if you only have ten machines, you can only do about 80 people an hour." Everyone still in line by 7:30 tomorrow night will be allowed to vote. "We have always closed on time," says Devenney. "I don't know about this time." Polls open at 6:30 tomorrow morning.