Six Lawrence County women have worked more than 50 years at the polls.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Mary Cook was only supposed to fill in for a woman who couldn't make it to work the polls on election day.
But 58 years later she's still there every May and November watching over New Castle's 3rd Ward, 6th District.
The 83-year-old says she will continue the work as long as she is healthy.
Cook and about 300 others who have 10 or more years of work as election workers were honored Tuesday by the Lawrence County commissioners during a special meeting at the Pavilion at Cascade Park.
Each poll worker's name was read aloud and they were given certificates noting their years of service.
Cook was one of six women who had more than 50 years' service as judges, inspectors and clerks of election in the county. Cook is believed to have the most years of service in the county.
"Without these poll workers my job would be a lot harder," said Marlene Gabriel, Lawrence County's elections director. "They are so cooperative."
Richard Filling, commissioner for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation, thanked the workers for their dedication.
He noted that legislation is now pending that will help ease the burden on the state's older election workers. Officials have three proposals:
USplitting the election in half with two shifts of workers.
UIncreasing compensation for poll workers to attract more people.
UUsing high schoolers as poll workers.
Filling said about one-third of all states successfully use high school students as poll workers. He was unsure when lawmakers would vote on the legislation.
Filling said Lawrence County is the first county in Pennsylvania to honor its poll workers.
The longtime workers honored Tuesday said they plan to keep working the polls despite any changes in legislation.
Mary Gabriel, 90, has been at the New Castle's 4th Ward, 5th District for 50 years.
"I enjoy it," she said.
The old days
Gabriel, who is the mother-in-law of elections director Marlene Gabriel, said when she started they earned 50 cents a day and worked long hours counting the ballots after the polls closed. Now the ballots are counted by machine at the county courthouse.
"She would leave at 6 a.m. and not come home again until 3 or 4 a.m. sometimes," said her daughter Lillian Medure of New Castle.
Mary Jane Seidel of Ellwood City also spent long hours working at the polls. Her father and high school principal recruited her to work elections when she was 21 years old, and she's been there for the past 50 years.
"This is what our country is all about. We have to continue working the elections," she said.
Three other woman who were not present Tuesday were also recognized for 50 years or more of service. They are Hazel Hogue of Slippery Rock Township, and Helen Savu and Mary Angie Symbala, both of Ellwood City.