Presiding officer on a roll

Independent Electoral Commission presiding officer Bernie Gelant at Livingstone Church voting station, in New Lentegeur.

A New Lentegeur community worker went from going door-to-door to register voters to becoming a presiding officer at her local voting station.

Bernie Gelant, 52, has a passion for helping people, knows how to manage and is able resolve conflict.

This was her third opportunity to manage a voting station. In previous elections she was a general worker and volunteered previously to inform residents of voting procedures.

She started working on Saturday October 30 to assist special voters, those who were physically infirm, disabled or pregnant, and could not make their mark at their voting station on local government election day, Monday November 1.

Ms Gelant, who oversaw the voting station at Livingstone Church, in New Lentegeur, set up and met with her nine staffers at 6am early this week.

They had a brief training on their roles and duties to assist voters as best they could, an hour later.

“I did not have any home visits for this local government elections and most of the special votes were cast on Saturday,” she said.

Ms Gelant cast her vote on Saturday and her colleagues were able to make their mark during election day.

A presiding officer is responsible for the conduct in the polling station and must have a good knowledge of voting procedures.

Ms Gelant complies with all instructions and ensures the integrity and secrecy of the ballot as set out by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

She assigns work, including staffers confirming whether residents are on the voters roll, the inker marking that you have voted, the ballot issuer, the booth controller, the box controller, who controls the crowd – a queue walker and a door controller, directing people and sanitising their hands.

“Many people prefer to vote in the morning because then they can have the rest of the day for themselves. So, we had a bit of a rush but the rain also slowed the crowd for us,” she said.

At about 6pm there was a queue but this was mainly due to physical distance and national Covid-19 protocols as to the number of people allowed in a venue.

Ms Gelant is also responsible for collecting and delivering ballot boxes; and ensuring the voting station is open and closed 9pm on election day.

“We need to see the voting station has the pens, ballots, booths, ink and everything is set up and prepared for the voter. I also need to help voters, who perhaps cannot read and check that everything is alright,” she said.

She has a diary that she needs to update with any complaints and queries.

“I need to ensure that everything is well outside, including police officers are on the premises and that inside there are political party agents observing everything,” she said.

Ms Gelant said it was important to turn a bad situation into a good one – to keep everyone calm, listen to their query and see how best to assist.

During the elections on Monday she said the main challenge was voters who had their nails done recently not wanting the inker to spoil the artwork.

“But we soon sorted that out, with some agreeing to move their nails a bit back,” she said.

Ms Gelant said many people arrived at the voters roll to find out that their addresses had not been changed because they were not registered.

“Some party agents lure them to be registered with a political party but you must first be registered with the IEC to be eligible to vote,” she said.

Ms Gelant has to apply to be presiding officer in the year when an election date is confirmed.

She then goes for training and is vetted by the IEC.

After 9pm Ms Gelant and her team tally the votes and are escorted to a central point, where the results are captured.