Longtime Lithia Poll Worker Reflects on Changes to the Election Process

Lithia voters say economy tops their lists of concerns.

A lull in voters at the Grace Community Church of FishHawk precinct gave volunteer poll clerk Lillian Ross a chance to reflect on why she became a poll worker and how the voting process has changed.

Encouraged by friends, the 45-year Lithia resident became a poll worker 25 years ago when paper ballots and pencils were the tools by which residents cast their votes. Back then, voters handed their ballots to the clerk who stuffed them into a wooden ballot box.

Today, high-tech voting machines insure that lost, damaged or indecipherable ballots are a thing of the past, said Ross.

"I've seen it all in 25 years," said Ross. "There's been a lot of changes in the way we vote."

When Ross became a poll worker, FishHawk Ranch didn't exist and Lithia-Pinecrest was a narrow gravel road.

"Where we're standing today at Grace Community Church was a swamp," she said.

Today her precinct has 1,275 registered voters. But 2 1/2 decades ago, there was only a handful of voters in rural Lithia where the major occupation was farming.

"There was a little wooden clubhouse where we voted," she said. "There wasn't anything else around here, just two little stores, the fire station, the post office and Pinecrest School."

But Lithia was a great place to raise kids, she said.

"My kids were involved in 4H and Future Farmers of America, and I always knew where they were. We never even locked our doors," Ross said.

A lifelong Democrat, the 73-year-old Ross said she's not particularly interested in who wins this presidential primary. She volunteers at the polls, she said, because she enjoys meeting new people.

However, her Lithia neighbor, David Walker, said he has a keen interest in the outcome of the primary.

"I'm 50 years old now, and I've been voting since I was 18," he said. "I've never missed a primary or election."

On this day, it was concerns about the economy that brought Walker to Grace Community Church.

"I'm just worried about the whole direction of the country, but the economy is probably the biggest thing," he said.

That's also what brought 21-year-old Zak Burkhardt to the polls.

Although he's only been voting for three years, he said he never misses a chance to cast his ballot.

"It's kind of how I was raised," he said. "You just make it a priority to vote in every election."

A students at the University of South Florida and a part-time employee at Apple, the economy tops Burkhardt's list of concerns. He wonders if there will be jobs available when he graduates, if he'll be able to realize the American dream like his parents did.

"I definitely feel there are things in this country that need to be changed," he said. "If something doesn't happen, we're headed for bigger problems."


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