State honors local poll worker for her contribution to election process

Joanna Grassl (third from left), “Huntington County’s poll worker extraordinaire,” poses with (from left) Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, Huntington County Clerk Kittie Keiffer and Pam Fowler, Huntington County voter registration and election deputy, after Lawson recognized Grassl as Huntington County’s Poll Worker of the Year on Thursday, March 16.
Joanna Grassl (third from left), “Huntington County’s poll worker extraordinaire,” poses with (from left) Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, Huntington County Clerk Kittie Keiffer and Pam Fowler, Huntington County voter registration and election deputy, after Lawson recognized Grassl as Huntington County’s Poll Worker of the Year on Thursday, March 16. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published March 20, 2017.

Joanna Grassl loves politics.

But don’t expect to see her name on the ballot.

“I don’t want to be in politics. It’s too much dog eat dog,” she says. “But I enjoy the outside part of it, the voting, how it works.”

And if there’s an election going on, she’s likely to be there, making sure the voting process runs smoothly and that everyone who wants to cast a ballot has that opportunity.

In recognition of those efforts, Grassl has been named an honorary Indiana Secretary of State, an award presented on Thursday, March 16, by Indiana’s actual secretary of state, Connie Lawson, the state’s chief election official.

Lawson made the presentation in a ceremony at the Huntington County Courthouse, recognizing Grassl as Huntington County’s Poll Worker of the Year.

Grassl has been a poll worker and election volunteer in Huntington County for “somewhere between 15 and 20 years,” she says, ever since getting a phone call from her son, Troy Irick, who was then serving as a precinct committeeman.

“He called one day and wondered if I wanted to be an inspector,” she recalls.

“I needed precinct workers,” Irick says.

She agreed and recruited a friend, Jan Flaugh, to go with her. Since then, she’s been a fixture at the polls. Flaugh has also stuck with it, she says.

It’s not just the election process that Grassl enjoys. It’s also the people.

“She’s a people person,” says her husband, Roger Grassl, a United States Air Force retiree.

His wife says chatting with the people who come to vote is one of her favorite parts of the job.

“Certain ones you always meet just one time a year,” she says.

Grassl upped her chances of meeting more people as she moved around the polling places, working in a variety of positions.

“I guess I’ve worked just about every position there is,” Grassl says. “I’ve worked at five different voting sites.”

“She served as an inspector for a lot of those years,” says Huntington County Clerk Kittie Keiffer, who called Grassl “Huntington County’s poll worker extraordinaire” in nominating her for the award.

An inspector, Grassl explains, is responsible for making sure everything is set up and ready to go, a job that’s usually done the night before voting starts. When the polls close, the inspector and the judges pack everything up and turn it in at the clerk’s office in the courthouse.

“If any problems arise, it falls on your shoulders to take care of it,” she says.

The time Grassl spends at the polls has increased over the years.

“I started with just Election Day,” she says.

Then, about six years ago, she started working at the early voting site at the Huntington County Courthouse.

She was acquainted with Pam Fowler, voter registration and election deputy in the county clerk’s office, from the days when Grassl worked as receptionist and clinic aide at the former Horace Mann Elementary School, and Fowler had kids in the school. Grassl retired from that job in 2004, then spent another 10 years subbing in school clinics around the county.

Fowler remembered her, and asked if she wanted to staff the courthouse site — a four-week job that entails five or six full days each week.

“Oh, that was so much fun,” Grassl says.

Despite a record turnout of Indiana voters during the fall 2016 election, Lawson said it was “one of the smoothest presidential election cycles I’ve ever seen — and it was because of people like Joanna.”

But nothing ever runs without a hitch, and Grassl says the hitches in the voting process are more likely to be caused by people than machines.

“People will want to talk politics while they’re there,” she says. “We just tell them, ‘We’re sorry, we can’t talk politics in here.’

“Or people will grumble and growl about showing an ID, or show the wrong ID. Sometimes they get confused, but they can ask for help.”

Last fall, a fire alarm sounded in the courthouse as people were lined up to vote. The voters were escorted out of the courthouse, then allowed back in — but not all returned.

“We lost about half our people,” she says.

Grassl sees all kinds of people stop in the courthouse to vote early — people who came to pay their taxes, spring and fall, and stayed to vote; people who are heading to Florida for the winter.

“Or people like me who don’t want to stand in line,” Roger Grassl says.

“The fun thing is the young people who are voting for the first time,” Grassl says. “They are so excited.”

Grassl has also been part of the traveling board, a panel that takes voting materials to people who are homebound. She once told a 99-year-old voter about that service, she says, but the man insisted that he’d rather cast his vote at a regular polling place.

Requests for a visit by the traveling board increase each year, she says, and the board has paid visits to voters at Victory Noll and area nursing homes.

“Those people want to vote,” she says. “They don’t want to mail it in.”

There is some down time during lulls at the polls, and Grassl says she fills that time reading or doing crossword puzzles.

“Or eat. We all bring food in, and we eat all day,” she says. “We didn’t have many (lulls) at all this past year.”

“I stay home and relax or do whatever I want to do,” her husband says.

“We don’t have an election this year, so I’ll kind of feel lost,” Grassl says.

She plans to work at least one more election, in 2018, and might bow out after that. Or she might not.

“I said maybe one more election,” she says. “We’ll see how things go. We’ll see when that time comes.”