While Cullman County residents take to the polls today, dozens of workers will spend the day making sure every vote counts.

Poll workers like Jo Burrow will man the county's 36 voting locations to check voters in, hand out ballots, answer questions and gather totals at the day's end.

Burrow, 67, has been working elections for more than 25 years, she said. As inspector for Beat 1, Box 2, a polling station at the Cullman Civic Center, she'll be responsible for managing the 1,650 voters on her lists — only a third of whom might show up.

"Turnout is never as good as it should be, and that's sad," Burrow said Monday as she prepared for the election.

Having worked dozens of elections, Burrow has seen many changes over the years, particularly in voting technology. This year brings an additional machine designed to help the disabled vote to each polling place.

Neil Rainwater can relate. Now inspector for Beat 19, the Gold Ridge Community Center, his first election as a poll worker was when Alabamians voted for Lurleen Wallace in 1966.

"I started when you voted on a paper ballot, folded it up and stuffed it into a locked can," Rainwater said. "Many times, the ballot was as large as a newspaper page. ... We worked until three in the morning getting those ballots counted."

Now, paper ballots are fed into a computerized scanner. When polls close at 7 p.m. today, workers will simply press a few buttons on the machines to download the numbers onto a data card, which are all brought to the Civic Center to calculate the grand totals.

"You couldn't ask for a better system than Cullman County has now with the scanners," Rainwater, a retired accountant, said.

With a computer crunching the numbers, Burrow and Rainwater said poll workers spend most of their day making sure voters are in the right place and answering their questions, which are many.

Primaries, like today's election, cause a lot of confusion, they said. Many people, especially those who are voting in Alabama for the first time, don't understand that they must pick either a Democratic or Republican ballot and can only vote for candidates of one party.

"I've had people just leave rather than declare a party," Burrow said.

Burrow and the six clerks who will assist her today have to make sure each voter gets the ballot for the party they declare and the House of Representatives district where they live. This election includes another factor that's often puzzling, Rainwater said, a proposed constitutional amendment.

Alabamians will be asked to approve or reject an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. But some read the short description of the amendment printed on the ballot, and think the question is analogous to "Do you want to allow same-sex marriage?" when it's actually the opposite.

"Many times people will ask you about the amendments," Rainwater said. "All we do is try tell them to the best of our ability. To some people, the legal aspects of it can get confusing."

Other voters are concerned that poll workers will see or try to influence how they vote.

"People are real funny about their ballots," Burrow said. "They don't want anyone to see how they vote. They think that's what we do. We could care less."

Both said they're confident in the integrity of Cullman's elections, especially with the new technology that makes a fraudulent count nearly impossible to pull off without the know-how.

And what inspires someone to spend a 14-hour day working for the sake of democracy?

"I'm a civic-minded person," Rainwater said. "I enjoy being involved in the community."

"We enjoy it," Burrow said. "We enjoy seeing all the people you only see on Election Day. We think we're doing something good."

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