Voters, poll workers find ways to cope with snow on election day

Democracy has a snow plow — or at least skis.

Voter turnout was low at most polling sites across Lawrence on Tuesday, as heavy snowfall in the morning kept many voters away for the day.

But the winter weather didn’t even come close to shutting down Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission primary election.

“It will take more than this,” said Frank Hamler, a poll worker at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church near Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive.

Especially if voters have skis. Poll workers at the American Legion, 3408 W. Sixth St., said at least one voter did ski to the polling site on Tuesday morning.

“He came in with his cross-country skis,” poll worker Marsha Fowler said. “He said he hit one rough spot.”

But most voters stayed home, especially during the early-morning hours when the snow was falling at its heaviest rate.

Election workers were successful in getting the polling site at West Middle School, 2700 Harvard Road, open by 7 a.m.. But by 8 a.m. the location had served only one voter.

Election workers found themselves out in the brunt of the storm, though. Several workers were driven to their polling sites by Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies or Lawrence police officers, which may have caused some residents to wonder why a police officer was escorting their neighbors away early in the morning.

“My officer came in an unmarked car, thankfully,” Fowler said with a laugh.

Many other poll workers drove themselves.

“We slid into a curb on the way here, but, other than that, it wasn’t too bad,” Hamler said.

State law does not allow for an election to be postponed, Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said. Several poll workers said braving the weather was the least they could do for such an important process.

“It would have been easier to stay in bed, for sure,” Hamler said. “But I just like to support the democratic process. That’s the reason I’m here.”

Barbara Pitner, an election worker at the American Legion, said she was proud of the voters who showed up Tuesday.

“I didn’t think we would have 10 people come today, so I am pleased,” Pitner said.

Several voters said they didn’t have any particular issue on their mind but felt an obligation to vote in the City Commission primary nonetheless.

“I’ve got a four-wheel drive truck, so it wasn’t bad getting here,” Jim Pickel said. “And you have to vote. That is just part of the deal.”

Many residents, though, must not have read that part of the deal. At about 2 p.m., about 20 people had shown up at the polling station at Checkers grocery store, despite the polling site having a built- in drawing card: The polling booths were right next to the beer aisle and the toilet paper shelves.

“Some people did come in and vote early this morning because they had no heat and no lights at their house, so they figured they might as well go to the grocery store,” said Gayle Matchett, an election worker at the Checkers site.