As a skinny mist crammed the air and darkish clouds floated periodically overhead, ballot employee Joe Hlebica met the chilly with out hesitation.
Sporting layers of clothes, a yellow poll bag affixed to his shoulder and a steady extensive grin, he was able to greet voters on the Regular Heights Elementary polling location.
Hlebica stood up from his metallic folding chair to point out the layers of clothes he was sporting, together with a t-shirt, a flannel, a chunky collared sweater, heavy denims and glossy brown leather-based work boots – a method, he mentioned, a few of his pals describe as akin to lumberjack stylish or a metropolis dweller who needs to offer the impression they’re rugged sufficient to chop down timber for a dwelling.
Telling tales of his time volunteering on the San Diego Maritime Museum and dwelling in Japan for 12 years, it is as if he is chatting with an outdated pal. Hlebica is each charming and social.
However Hlebica mentioned his curiosity, not his love for dialog, attracted him to work the polls.
“I wish to know, how does this factor work,” Hlebica mentioned. “It has been an actual lesson in civics. I can say to my doubting pals, associates and household with all confidence, (the voting course of) is 99.9% foolproof.”
Hlebica is without doubt one of the 1000’s of numerous ballot staff who dedicate their time to creating the voting course of attainable in San Diego.
The San Diego Registrar of Voters begins weeks earlier than Election Day recruiting ballot staff, particularly these with language or translation abilities.
To qualify as a ballot employee, in keeping with the San Diego Registrar of Voters, you should be a US citizen, registered to vote in California or be lawfully admitted for everlasting residence, be a minimum of 18 years outdated, and communicate, learn and write English .
As well as, staff are required to finish a two-day in-person coaching, be out there as much as 11 days throughout the two weeks main as much as Election Day, and have dependable transportation to and from their assigned polling middle every day.
The motivation to step into the function was barely totally different for ballot staff and retirees, Norma Stafford and Kelly, who requested her final title not be used for safety functions.
Kelly, who has labored the final 4 elections, mentioned she retains coming again for the human interplay and the pay, which is $15 per hour for a technical inspector and $17.61 for a precinct inspector, in keeping with the San Diego Registrar of Voters.
Throughout a cellphone interview with Metropolis Instances, Kelly socialized and loved fish tacos from a close-by meals truck with co-workers she described as “simply fantastic.”
Kelly says most voters are “extraordinarily good” and considers assembly them and their canines a pleasant perk of the job.
There was just one incident the place Kelly felt unsafe sufficient to alert regulation enforcement and recalled police arriving minutes after she referred to as them.
“There was a man operating up the hill and yelling and operating again down the hill and operating again up,” Kelly mentioned. “Then he began harassing the individuals within the park.”
This 12 months, Kelly mentioned, there’s an additional stage of safety for ballot staff at her location, a code phrase for use if there’s a safety concern and a pre-determined assembly location if there’s an incident.
Hlebica’s location didn’t have a protected phrase, however a close-by police precinct was on alert and able to reply in case of an incident.
Stafford, who was unable to take part this 12 months attributable to a COVID-19 an infection, mentioned the one safety state of affairs she has encountered in over 40 years of working the polls was when she requested two voters to depart.
“I’ve had a few instances when a few voters that have been clearly on reverse sides would sort of begin speaking and you could possibly inform that the warmth was rising,” Stafford mentioned in a cellphone interview with Metropolis Instances.
Stafford, upset to not be working the polls this 12 months, cannot consider many threats that might maintain her from taking part within the voting course of.
From internet hosting a polling location in her home throughout the Seventies to working the polls in 2022, 80-year-old Stafford has no plans for sitting the following election out.
“I really feel like I am contributing,” Stafford mentioned. “I’ve by no means missed voting in an election. It is simply a type of rights we’ve, and if we wish to maintain these rights, we should maintain doing it.”
Hlebica, a retired science author at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, is not so certain he’ll return to work the polls in 2024. Security is his high concern, simply because it was in 2021.
Signed up and able to work the polls for the California gubernatorial recall election in September 2021Hlebica mentioned he finally bought chilly toes as a result of he was “afraid of hassle.”
When attending his ballot employee coaching on the San Diego Registrar of Voters in 2022, safety remained Hlebica’s precedence.
Involved in regards to the lack of scanners or metallic detectors when he arrived on the San Diego Registrar of Voters constructing, Hlebica questioned his security as a ballot employee, pausing briefly to rethink.
However finally, after being reassured the police could be on alert and a precinct was blocks away from his polling location, I made a decision to take the job.
By the tip of Election Day, Hlebica can have spent virtually two weeks between coaching and dealing the polls. However he describes himself as a “mail man” who would not wait lengthy to vote.
“I get the poll,” Hlebica mentioned, “and inside the first 24-48 hours I fill it out and drop it within the mail.”