When Dover machine clerk Katrinka Contant works a polling station, she dons an outfit that would make Captain America happy.
When machine clerk Katrinka Contant works a polling station, she dons an outfit that would make Captain America happy.
“Usually it’s a red top, navy blue pants and a patriotic scarf,” Contant said. “Even the lunch bag I take is red, white and blue and on my chair I have a patriotic cushion with little flags on it.”
Contant is one of 4,250 poll workers hired for Election Day. She’s been a machine clerk in Kent County since 2004, working primary and general elections.
The social aspect of the job has kept her coming back all these years. And so has the paycheck. The pay is $190 for clerks, $195 for judges and $235 for inspectors. Shifts are 6 a.m. to around 9 p.m.
It’s not all about the money, since “I get to interact with people and I love helping people,” Conant said. She goes out of her way to make first-time voters feel special.
“I get excited when we have a new voter come in. I do make a big deal over it,” the Dover resident said. “I call out that it’s a first-time voter and I make handclaps and applaud them for doing their duty and make them feel proud that they actually stepped up and voted.”
Kenneth McDowell, director of Sussex County Department of Elections, agreed that socializing is an incentive for poll workers.
“Poll workers are our frontline for the department of elections. They’re the people that meet and greet people on Election Day,” McDowell said. ”Voting is social and they see their neighbors and relatives. It’s a social experience and we want it to be.”
Tackling the big day
On Election Day, Contant will wake up at 4:35 a.m., just as she’s done for the last three presidential elections. Her ritual is packing yogurt, fruit and a sandwich, and plenty of water bottles in her patriotic bag. She also carries water in her shoulder bag, which matches her seat cushion.
Having lots of water is important on Election Day.
“You will get dehydrated if you’re doing a lot of talking,” Contant said, “and we have to talk to everybody when they come and explain how to do the voting.”
On Election Day, Contant’s post will be at William Henry Middle School where she’s worked before. Her main duties include setting up voting machines, greeting voters and explaining how to use the machine.
Unlike the primaries a few weeks ago, Contant knows this general election with Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton will be way more intense. And she’ll be prepared.
“You always have to have chocolate to give you that extra boost of energy to keep you going,” she said.
She’ll also need comfy shoes. Contant paid the price for not doing so during her first election in 2004.
“I ended up with blisters on my feet after that” because “you’re doing a lot of fast back-and-forth and pivoting,” Contant said. “As a machine clerk, you’re walking back and forth all the time.”
An epic election
Contant increased her foot support in 2008. That’s when Barack Obama was selected as the first black president of the United States. That presidential election remains Contant’s most memorable.
“There were a lot of first-time voters,” she said. “It was exciting seeing people really going forward and doing something, because I’ve worked several elections that people just didn’t care about.
“Sometimes they didn’t show up to make their vote count. You always hear about it afterwards when people keep griping or complaining about one candidate, but they never go out to vote.
“With that one, you did see people putting their finger where their mouth is.”
‘There’s pros and cons’
The Nov. 8 presidential election is already historic, since Clinton and Trump are the least-liked presidential candidates since the advent of national opinion polls.
No matter who wins, Contant will find herself in familiar territory, working the polls in another significant election.
“I have been a part of a lot of history along the way. That’s how I see it,” she said. “People are going to go out and support what they believe, even though there’s pros and cons with both [candidates].”
Some voters have threatened to not to use their vote at all this year, due to a strong dislike for both nominees.
But Howard Sholl, deputy director for New Castle County Department of Elections, is still anticipating a big turnout.
“When we plan for an election, we always plan for the worst case,” he said.
Sholl added, “In this one you have a nonincumbent president and a nonincumbent governor” and “there’s more participation when there’s a nonincumbent president.”