In Douglas County, there are 57 polling locations that require at least 170 workers on Election Days, and there’s one person who coordinates all of them: Julie Ybarra.
Ybarra has worked 30 elections during her 13 years of employment with the Douglas County Clerk’s Office. As the Douglas County Election Worker Coordinator, she oversees the individuals who work at the polling sites. The goal is to have at least three workers at each location during smaller elections (city, county and school board) and five to six during larger elections (gubernatorial and presidential), depending on voter turnout at the locations.
There also are different positions for election workers: supervising judge, runners and board members. The boards, which consist of three individuals, include: canvass, advance, write-in and audit. Supervising judges earn $135 per day plus mileage while election workers earn $120 per day. They also are paid $30 for participating in a training session.
“It’s very interesting,” Ybarra said, of the work that goes on year-round and on Election Days. “I had volunteered for campaigns in the past, but still had no idea about all of the work involved. It was an eye-opener.”
Ybarra is one of three full-time employees whose primary assignment is elections in the County Clerk’s Office. The Clerk’s Office has an annual budget of about $540,000 for its Voting and Elections Division.
County Clerk Jamie Shew said, “Julie’s most remarkable quality, next to juggling so many moving pieces, is her personal relations with the hundreds of elections workers. She handles each person with empathy, respect and appreciation. Because of Julie, we get election board workers returning every election happy and ready to serve.”
At the beginning of each year, Ybarra sends notices to those who have worked during past elections to see if they would like to work again during the coming year. Once she knows who is working, then she assigns them a location. She also has a list of substitutes. “Things do come up or there are no-shows,” she said.
She recalled one year when quite a few election workers became ill with the flu and Douglas County had to hire people through an employment agency. Another year, she was short about 100 workers and it was just a few weeks before the election, so she reached out to political parties and committees and was able to fill the jobs. “I’ve been fortunate,” she said.
Ybarra said the majority of election workers begin working in retirement during their mid-60s, but there are workers of all ages (individuals must be at least 16) who come and go. There also are individuals who only work during major elections because they know more workers are needed. “I have a core group of people who work almost every election, which is great until someone leaves and you put someone new in their spot. Then, sometimes the former worker will want their spot back because they’ve been working there forever,” Ybarra said. “It can be hard to please everyone, but I do my best. I look at it as a puzzle, and I love puzzles.”
On Nov. 5, residents will be voting on city commissions and school boards. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 15, and advance voting begins Oct. 16. Ybarra said the Clerk’s Office maintains the database of registered voters throughout the year. They can only change an address if it comes from the voter or the post office.
Shew said Ybarra works long hours and on weekends in the weeks leading up to Election Days. On Election Day, her work typically begins at 6 a.m. and ends somewhere around midnight, depending on the election. Everyone who works in the Douglas County Voting and Elections Division has specific duties, she said.
During the day, they are making sure the polling sites have all of the supplies they need and they check on voter turnout. After 7 p.m., the work takes place in the Commission Meeting room at the County Courthouse. “There are many jobs that are going on. It looks chaotic, but it is not. We all know what we are doing and we are all in our places,” she said. Ybarra’s job is to review the provisional ballots.
When she’s not working on elections, Ybarra handles the cereal malt beverage and transient merchant licenses in addition to helping with a variety of citizen needs that go through the County Clerk’s Office.
Ybarra grew up in Overland Park and then moved to Lawrence during her junior year of high school. She graduated from Lawrence High School and then received further education in business. With accounting and bookkeeping experience, she applied for a position with Douglas County in 2006. She thought it was a job in accounting, but was pleasantly surprised when County Clerk Jamie Shew began talking about elections. “I am a political junkie,” she said. “I thought this job is really cool because I can do something that I’m really interested in, but I will be doing it from the process side.”
She also gets to work with people. “I will tell people that I don’t like working with people very much, but I really do,” she said. “I do like working with my election workers.”
To learn more about Douglas County Voting and Elections, visit our website: https://douglascountyks.org/depts/voting-and-elections.
*Story by Karrey Britt | Communications Specialist for Douglas County