By Anita Keith-Foust
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
With a quick internet search, one can see that dirty politics is no stranger to North Carolina. Pollworkers in Durham reported that the local election took on an unusual degree of shadiness in the Durham County Commissioner and Superior Court Judge races this general election.
Former North East Central Durham (NECD) representative, Jackie Wagstaff, is well known for working the voting polls. She has done so for 26 years.
She worked the entire election, early voting and Election Day, Nov. 6. During the early voting period, she worked the poll closest to NECD, the Durham Museum, located in the old DATA Bus terminal on Morgan Street.
Ken Reckhow, husband of County Commissioner and incumbent Ellen Reckhow worked at the Durham Museum poll as well.
“I enjoy politics. I really like smart people like Jackie,” said Reckhow. “It’s like talking to people you disagree with in terms of serious issues, but in the end we are friends, right?”
Wagstaff agreed, “When I leave here, I’m going to sit on the corner and anybody can come with me right there where it says ‘West End Wine Bar.’”
But working the polls is not always an enjoyable time. Wagstaff reported that this year she witnessed tactics she had never seen before, like poll workers focusing on disinformation on behalf of candidates.
According to Wagstaff, during the early voting period, flyers were handed out that stated not to vote for Omar Beasley, Brenda Howerton, and Michael Page.
This is the first time that Wagstaff has seen any literature handed out saying who not to vote for.
These were the only three candidates that the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People endorsed. The same candidates were also endorsed by the Friends of Durham along with two others.
Wagstaff also saw a flyer showing a picture of candidate for Superior Court Judge, Jim Dornfried with President Barack Obama and a caption saying that the “Durham Committee” endorsed Dornfried. Local media and community members use this term as a shortened version of the DCABP, but they had endorsed incumbent Judge Orlando Hudson.
The Herald-Sun reported that poll workers had seen this deceptive practice at the South Regional Library branch polling site, but Wagstaff says that it happened at the Durham Museum too. When the Herald-Sun contacted Dornfried, he said that he knew nothing about this.
Wagstaff also said that she heard that a white candidate hired African Americans to work the polls and these poll workers either intentionally approached African American voters to misinform them or they had not been properly trained by the candidate before they worked the polls.
Wagstaff said that they were misinforming voters that Omar Beasley was a Republican when in fact he is a registered Democrat who, prior to running for office, had registered as unaffiliated.
Another tactic that Wagstaff observed was the same poll workers were telling voters that the Durham Committee’s slate was comprised of Republican candidates.
Wagstaff said that she had to dispel that rumor by showing the Democratic Party’s list of candidates and comparing it to the DCABP slate. Wagstaff says this is the first time in twenty-six years that she has encountered these tactics.
In the twenty-six years that she has worked the polls, Wagstaff said that the Durham Committee has consistently been at the polls.
Now other political action committees (PACs) and longtime incumbents who seldom worked the polls are now there.
“So, I guess the political atmosphere must be changing,” said Wagstaff.
One clear change is that there are many more days to cover the polls.
“The pros of polling is the relationships that you form with voters over the years and with these relationships the voters have a trust in your recommendation of who to vote for during the election,” said Wagstaff. “The cons are you have to mentally deal with the people that are campaigning for the opposing political side.”
Reckhow had similar sentiments.
“I love Durham. Even though we all get aggravated with people and issues we don’t agree with,” said Reckhow. “Jackie and I disagree on a bunch of things, but she is a smart woman and she is fun to be with.”
Although these tactics frustrate her, she plans to continue working the polls.
“I will continue to work the polls in future elections because I believe in the electoral process and when I pledge my support to a candidate, I will do whatever it takes to get them elected and part of that process involves working the polls.”
Wagstaff’s motto is, “Stay strong and never take anything personal. It’s just politics.”
Wagstaff and Reckhow set a great example of how working the polls can be light-hearted and fun. Both Wagstaff and Reckhow’s candidates won. The final report from the Durham County Board of Elections showed Brenda Howerton with the second highest number of votes 94,206 and Ellen Reckhow with 93,007 votes.