PORT TOWNSEND — From a trial-by-fire training to becoming one of the most experienced people in the Jefferson County Auditor’s Office, election coordinator Betty Johnson’s 25-year tenure with the county has come to an end.
Johnson was the first employee that former Jefferson County Auditor Donna Eldridge hired in 1995, and she initially was hired for voter registration.
She was hired in October, right before the general election in November, and since the person who previously held the position had already left and she did not have any prior experience with election administration, Johnson had to learn quickly.
“You can’t get experienced people off the street easily,” Johnson said. “It’s a very niche role.”
Johnson spent almost every weekend through that first general election working long nights with Eldridge and then election coordinator Karen Cartmel, working on voter registration paperwork, organizing ballots and getting all the required paperwork completed.
Johnson said within the first month of working for the county, she had already accrued approximately two to three weeks of vacation time due to overtime hours.
“It felt like a trial by fire,” Johnson said. “There was no time for training.”
Much of the election preparation process back then had to be done by hand; technology was slowly integrated into the election process over the coming decades, Johnson said.
“Technology has come a long way,” she said, after explaining how she had to check signatures, stuff ballot envelopes and sort ballots all by hand initially.
Although starting out was a challenge, Johnson has enjoyed her tenure working with the election team in Jefferson County, as well as with other election offices across the state.
“It’s like a functional family,” Johnson said, describing election teams across the state. “I love knowing that everyone wants to see you succeed.
“You honestly feel like they’re part of your team. I can’t stress enough that in the election community, if one person fails, we all fail and no one wants you to fail.”
Johnson is leaving with a sense of pride, as well as relief, as she appreciates the work she was able to do, and also is glad to be free from the stress.
“Even though I love the job, I’m going to be very happy not to have to come back. It’s a very rewarding job but it is stressful,” Johnson said.
The most important part for her was maintaining trust between the political parties and the voters that she was doing her job right in correctly tabulating everyone’s votes.
“I feel like knowing that parties — and hopefully the public — trust in the process and trust me is a good feeling,” she said.
One of the most challenging times for her as the election coordinator was during the snowstorms in February, which was during a special election and ballots were due. Johnson and her team were having daily phone calls with state officials, the post office and voters trying to make sure ballots were returned on time.
“We were doing everything we could possibly do to help without risking our safety,” Johnson said.
For the last six months, Johnson has been training her replacement, Quinn Grewell, who is now the sole election coordinator for the county.
“Giving Quinn six months of training has been beneficial,” Johnson said. “It’s a big job, I had 19 years of election experience when I shifted over and she came off the street.
“She will do good. She’s very meticulous and that’s what you need.”
Grewell said she is grateful that she had the opportunity to learn from someone as knowledgeable and caring as Johnson.
“She’s got a really good outlook on things. She’s got a really fabulous personality and she’s one of the most caring of persons,” Grewell said. “She’s incredibly smart and has a ton of knowledge.
“We spent the last six months really in the trenches of elections between the primary and general elections.”
The best piece of advice that Grewell said she received from Johnson was “be flexible and take everything as a learning experience, no matter what.”
Grewell is now preparing to mail out ballots for south county voters for the February special election, where levies for the Quilcene and Brinnon school districts are being put to voters in the respective precincts. Ballots will be mailed out by Jan. 22.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]