Decades of service: Seymour woman works at precinct for 24th election


Elections come and go, and who holds office can change with each cycle.

But one thing has remained the same for more than four decades at one Jackson County precinct.

That’s the small-frame lady who works as one of the poll clerks at Redding East.

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Dorothy Helt, 92, just wrapped up her 24th election as a clerk, a service that spans 45 years at the precinct in northeastern Jackson County.

That includes 10 presidential elections dating back to when President Gerald Ford was defeated by President Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Many voters check in with Helt as they have so many times before casting a ballot at Reddington Christian Church.

With her welcoming spirit, she thumbs through the poll book and checks your name. Then you’re off to vote for whomever you see fit for office.

“I think she’s dedicated to her county, which is special,” Sara Cunningham, a voter at the precinct, said of Helt’s service. “She’s a good, honest lady.”

Cunningham had just cast her vote at the location Tuesday and was glad to see Helt still working.

“It’s great to see a familiar face each time we vote,” she said.

When Helt first started as a poll clerk, the ballots were not submitted into a machine that would spit out instant results like they are now.

They were counted the old-fashioned way: By hand.

“We counted them all by hand,” she said. “It’s gotten easier.”

That process would take much longer than it does now, Helt said.

“If you can imagine having to do that,” she said.

The way precincts look has changed throughout the years, too.

“The booths used to be really big, and they had these curtains draped around them,” she said.

Now, the booths are a little smaller but are still private with walls on three sides.

Helt became involved around 1973 after then-inspector Charlie Spall asked her to work as a clerk.

“I taught at the Sunshine School until 1972,” she said of the school that was for special needs students and was dear to her heart. “Then I was asked and decided I wanted to.”

What happened in that first election? Ask someone else.

“I don’t remember anything about the first one,” she laughed. “Not a bit of it.”

She does remember Spall’s expectations during Election Day.

“He was very particular,” Helt recalled. “We never wanted a mistake and never had a mistake.”

One year, the polling location was at a closed business in Reddington, and the inspector brought his camper for the workers to use when nature called.

“That was our bathroom,” she said. “That was bad.”

Helt believes that was the arrangement for only a year.

“Thank goodness,” she said.

Her late husband, Scoville, was a judge and there was a mistake one election, which led the group to going over ballots to find it.

“Could you imagine doing that?” she said. “It seemed like hours.”

But after going through everything, the mistake was resolved.

“Bless his heart, he found it,” she said.

Why does she do it? That answer is pretty simple if you ask her.

“I feel like it’s my patriotic duty,” Helt said.

She also doesn’t plan to sit the next one out, so long as she’s able to serve and is asked.

“They keep asking me, and as long as I’m able to, I will do it,” she said. “This might be my last one, but if I’m able, I will do it again.”

Continuing to serve means she sees people she knows and doesn’t get to see too often.

“I see a lot of people that I wouldn’t otherwise,” she said.

Helt also enjoys helping feed the other poll workers at her precinct.

“One poll worker fixes one soup, and I fix another,” she said.

Election Day can be exhausting for many workers, but a 13-hour day doesn’t bother the sharp-minded Helt.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” she said. “I get up at 4 o’clock and get here by 5 to help set everything up.”

Then the work begins of filling out the paperwork to get everything ready for voters to stream in and cast ballots.

Helt noticed something different about this election.

“This was a big one,” she said. “The amount of people that are coming, I’m definitely pleased with that.”

She was right, as 52 percent of registered voters participated in Tuesday’s election, the most since 1994 — or Helt’s 12th election as a polling clerk.

Voting is an important right, and people should take advantage of it, she said.

“It’s the freedom we have,” Helt said. “We complain about this and that and everything, but we are still a free country, and we can still vote.”

She also can share a wealth of wisdom of a time when politics didn’t seem so divisive.

“I think people sometimes have a hard time deciding who to vote for because they all yell at each other,” Helt said. “They really shouldn’t do that.”

No they shouldn’t, but maybe it would do everyone good to vote at Reddington Christian Church, where they’d find one of the best examples of kindness and service.

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