Every year, without fail, there's no question about where you'll find Newton's Lori Hein on the first Tuesday following the first Monday of November.
For four decades now, Hein has spent each election day working at polling locations around Newton (usually at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in recent years), making a concentrated effort to guarantee she is able to fill her duties.
"Over the years, no matter where I've worked, whether it was at the phone company, Bethel College or the Newton Recreation Commission, I always took a vacation day to work the elections, so I've missed very few," Hein said. "I turned 18 in 1976 and I worked the polls the first election that I was able to vote. My mother always worked the polls, and she got me to volunteer, as well, and I've been doing it ever since."
Hein recalls very clearly who was on the ballot in 1976, as it was a presidential election year in which Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter was elected over incumbent Gerald Ford. Given that was seven presidents ago, though, things have certainly changed since then.
For the last several years, Hein was worked as a supervisor at her polling location where she noted some of the initially strict guidelines for counting ballots have loosened up over the years. In the past, if a pen was used instead of a pencil or the wrong mark was used, a ballot may have been discounted. Now, Hein noted as long as the proper "intent" is there, the ballot is counted. The biggest change, though, is the machines now doing the ballot tabulations — a far cry from how Hein got her start working on election day.
"When I first started out, I usually worked with the counting board because back then we actually counted the ballots, strung them up and tallied them — the whole nine yards," Hein said.
In that time, Hein said she has seen her fair share of recounts (at local, state and federal levels) having to be performed, with workers often at the courthouse past midnight to tally all the votes in those days — though that did tighten the social circle of those poll workers, with a potluck being held among members of the counting board on election day, as their work sequestered them in the courthouse for the day.
Having seen firsthand the impact just a few votes can make on an election and the trends she has seen over the years, not only is Hein committed to working at the polls, but she is also quick to sell others on the power of the individual vote — especially when it comes to those elections that hit close to home.
"As a citizen, as a poll worker and as somebody who thinks voting is important, I've always been concerned that local elections don't get as much of people's attention because those seem to be the ones that affect you on a daily basis more," Hein said. "There's no perfect system in the world, but I still think democracy is the best. I think it's a real privilege to be able to vote."
Supervising polling locations, part of Hein's role is making sure no campaigning takes place on site. Outside of having a car with a bumper sticker reparking and someone having to turn their shirt inside out while voting, she noted there have been few issues with that over the years.
On top of helping at polling locations each election day, Hein has also dedicated her time through the years helping several other community organizations — from the League of Women Voters to CASA to Big Brothers Big Sisters. The importance of voting and being civic-minded among her family is something she admitted may have sparked that commitment.
"That's something else that has always been really important to me, and I think a lot of it had to do with family, was that you serve your community," Hein said. "That's something that I've always wanted to do and continued to do."
Being out and active in the election process is something in which Hein takes great pride. While technological advancements — and the introduction of advanced ballots — continue to change that process, she is a proponent of the social aspects of democracy.
Hein has seen the power of civic engagement inspiring others to get involved and she is hopeful, no matter how things change at the polls, that will continue to hold true.
"There's something about people voting in an election, seeing other people voting and being a part of the process that's important," Hein said. "The takeaway from this should be that everybody can be involved by just voting. That's just one small act of service to your community."
Election day 2019 will be held on Nov. 5. For more information, visit hvcoksvote.com.