Imagine a scenario in which perhaps six voting precincts serve the county’s voting public with people voting at whichever one they choose, and with four or five days to do it. Or maybe there are no precincts at all.
It’s entirely possible, if not probable, as retiring Santa Rosa County Supervisor of Elections Ann Bodenstein sees it.
And it’s all tied to technology.
Bodenstein, who has held the elective position as supervisor of elections for eight years, has a pretty good handle on the issues that are taking place, too. In the eight years she has been supervising voting in the county, there have been four technology upgrades to voting machines.
From the older, heavy machines with the draw curtains to the punch ballots and on to the current optical scanning devices now in use, she has seen them come and go.
But voting machines aren’t the most exciting things on her mind right now. Even as she is closing in on retirement, the duties and responsibilities of the office remain hers, and she takes them seriously. On Jan. 8, she will retire and relinquish her authority and responsibilities to her successor, Tappie Villane, who won the county race to succeed Bodenstein.
From supervising a permanent office staff of six to working with election-day employees that number up to 500, Bodenstein’s duties are comprehensive.
“It’s very sensitive work,” she said, “Every ‘i’ must be dotted, and every ‘t’ must be crossed.”
And sometimes it gets to be a little hectic.
“The laws are complicated,” she said. “The state looks at people who are questionable and then sends the lists to us to make the final decision locally (on who can and who cannot vote).
“This is something, in my opinion, that the supervisor should not have to do, but it is part of the job and the law.”
Bodenstein said it takes a lot of work to locate people and let them know by mail, newspaper advertising and other means what their voting status is. Other duties include ascertaining voters’ citizenship and learning whether a felony has been downgraded to a misdemeanor in the court system.
“There’s a rhythm to the madness,” she said. “You have to start six months ahead of time to decide who’s going to be where and at what time. We’re fortunate in this county that we don’t have to advertise for poll workers.”
Working at the polls gets to be a family thing. From grandparents to grandkids, there seems to be an inherited interest.
Bodenstein said election offices in the south end of the state have a much harder time staffing the positions and have to advertise. There are so many snowbirds coming and going that matters get tricky in some places.
“We have people here that are nonpartisan, independents, Democrats, Republicans, young people, older people, men, women and so forth. If there is something wrong, they see it, and they let me hear about it,” Bodenstein said.
Bodenstein said her term in office did not come from anticipated fame or fortune or personal gain, but from duty and responsibility to the office. She worked in the office under other supervisors, and when the vacancy came up, she didn’t think the five who filed for the office were qualified because they had no experience. So she decided she would take the helm by seeking the office herself. The rest of the four years is history.
She said she has been asked what she will do when she retires. To that she responds, “I don’t know, I’ve never retired before!”
But she said feels confident that she is leaving the office in good hands. Her successor, Tappie Villane, has her blessing.
About the only thing Bodenstein said she is committed to do after retiring from the office is to attend some of her stepson’s golfing activities. Travel is another item on the agenda, but there’s no itinerary.
She said she considers her age to be the main reason for stepping down at this time, and the comfort of leaving the office in good hands. One thing she has accomplished — she’s met a lot of new people and made a lot of new friends.