As Election Day looms, county office finishes last-minute tasks

Gabe Semenza

Nov. 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Updated Nov. 2, 2010 at 6:02 a.m.

James Spear, left, and Matthew Hill, load Ivotronic touch screen voting machines to a cart at the courthouse annex basement where the machines are kept.

James Spear, left, and Matthew Hill, load Ivotronic touch screen voting machines to a cart at the courthouse annex basement where the machines are kept.

Elections staffers on Monday repeatedly poked their heads into George Matthews' office. Volunteers did, too.

With Tuesday's General Election looming, Matthews and his staff completed plenty of last-minute tasks.

The Victoria County elections administrator answered phone calls, interviewed with a newspaper reporter and then drove to Mission Valley and other polling locations.

"The biggest misconception is we only work once every four years," Matthews said, swiveling in his chair to face the door. Then his phone rang. "For this election alone, we started receiving calls in August 2009."

Matthews is in his 19th year as elections administrator, and in many ways, Tuesday's election is like all the others. The day represents the culmination of months of work.

That work began with helping candidates to wade through election laws and then ensuring they filed reports detailing campaign finances. The work continued earlier this year during the March primary, and extended into early voting, which ended on Friday.

Matthews' staff mailed 1,600 ballots to those who wished to vote early, not including the 135 who serve in the military. The staff also kept doors open to the 8,285 people who voted early and in-person.

Those numbers total 16 percent of the county's registered voters, and top early-voter turnout during the last gubernatorial election year, 2006, by 24 percent.

"Usually, during gubernatorial election years, we have a 38 to 41 percent turnout," Matthews said. "This year, I expect it to be at least a 42 percent turnout - but it could be higher."

By Monday, Matthews and his staff finished delivering the last of 155 voting machines and printers to the 35 precinct polling locations.

Matthews' mother, Marguerite Matthews, drives one of the white delivery vans.

"It's kind of a lot of work," said Jim Spear, an 83-year-old World War II veteran and elections office volunteer. "I've been helping to work elections since 1957. I've done everything from programming voting machines to delivering equipment."

Work to conduct elections, as Matthews stressed, doesn't happen just once every four years. The office conducts state elections every two years, presidential elections every four years, and various city, county, school district, college and other elections in between.

"It's definitely busy here," said Margetta Hill, who frowned as her phone rang again.

Matthews, Victoria County's first and only elections administrator, said Tuesday's work begins at 6 a.m. and won't end until after 8 p.m. Election Day and can wear on staffers, including himself, he said.

One of his most memorable elections, at least as it relates to tired workers, became a costly one for Matthews.

At the end of a long day, an election judge put her hands on his shoulders in mock exasperation. When she pulled away, her hand snagged a pen Matthews positioned in his shirt's front pocket.

"She tore my shirt," Matthews said. "I definitely remember that because it was a brand new, $90 shirt."



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