Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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The call to vote anyway worked

Larry Loutzenhiser is a very methodical man. When things get sticky, he talks really fast.

He's chatting at light speed these days.

As the deputy director of the Lucas County board of elections, he oversees and helps train the county's poll booth workers.

Like his colleagues at the elections board last week, he had to deal with a primary Election Day double-whammy: elderly poll workers who fell ill or otherwise could not complete their day of civic duty, and a terrorist act shortly after polls opened that threw the election into utter disarray.

He is still trying to recover.

Last week's terror attack came two hours and 20 minutes after polls opened in the Toledo's municipal election.

Throwing the voting into question, local television stations broadcasting news of the attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington cut in with bulletins that announced - erroneously - that the city's election had been suspended.

It didn't help that board officials had decided shortly after the attacks to lift a ban on televisions and radios at polling locations so workers there could keep up on developments.

When the local stations made their incorrect announcements, it went straight into the ears of those workers.

Under normal circumstances, they would have never heard or seen them.

Immediately, phones at the board of elections office were ringing with concerned voters and poll workers wondering what to do. Rumors were rampant.

Questions went without answers: Were schools going to close for the day, forcing precincts that were borrowing space in the gyms or libraries to shut down? Was the county courthouse downtown doing the same thing?

No one seemed to know.

Some reported that poll workers were packing up and heading home, though elections officials said later that didn't happen.

Antoinette Szuch, director of the elections board, finally went on live television just before 1 p.m. to calm everyone down, and it seemed to work.

When she returned to her office on the third floor of Government Center, things had become much more quiet.

And the voting went on. By the time it was over, vote totals showed that turnout was nearly what had been predicted ahead of time. Ms. Szuch said about 30 percent of registered voters would go to the polls. Twenty-seven percent actually did.

Ms. Szuch's television appearance and the impassioned pleas of local elected officials who implored voters to cast ballots as a way to send a message to the terrorists - that their murderous acts could not stop America - might have worked.

Halfway through the voting day, turnout was a paltry 11 percent, but afternoon voters went to the polls at nearly double the morning pace.

o o o

Mr. Loutzenhiser also has to deal with poll workers who become ill on the job, or can not work at all.

He faced more of the same Tuesday, as his collective contingent of workers seems to get older with every election.

A few years ago, one poll worker walked outside to her car at the conclusion of voting, loaded election results from her precinct into the car, but then she died.

Tuesday, one elderly poll worker at Beverly School in Ward 16 in South Toledo became disoriented as her blood sugar plummeted. Voting in the precinct stopped for several minutes while emergency medical workers were summoned to the scene.

They got her stabilized, and later in the day, she was fine and back to work.

In the meantime, voters kept coming, and signing themselves in. They operated the booth by themselves. Similar problems were reported in other city precincts.

Mr. Loutzenhiser said it is hard to recruit younger people - those in their 20s, 30s, and 40s - to work at the polls.

A program is in place to recruit high school students, some of whom might not be old enough to vote.

Poll workers, also known as precinct judges, are paid $85 to work the 13 hours that polls are opened.

“It used to be a badge of honor” to serve at the polls, Mr. Loutzenhiser said.

“It seems that sense of civic duty has been lost. We never have enough poll workers anymore.”

He also said the board is now considering contacting corporations for help getting people to work at the polls. They could, he said, adopt precincts or whole wards, offering willing employees the day off with pay to pitch in.

The University of Toledo and Owens Community College could give some sort of credit - maybe $25 or $50 credit at the school bookstore - to students who agree to work.

Fritz Wenzel covers politics for The Blade. Email him at

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