By Tiffany Whitfield

For 20 years, Gabriel Franke, assistant to the dean of College of Sciences, has held various positions during elections in Norfolk.

She started as a poll worker. After four years, she became assistant chief and has been chief in Norfolk for the past 14 years.

A poll worker sets up the polling place, verifies voter information, assists voters and safeguards voting equipment and site for citizens. Also, poll workers assist the chief and assistant chief with tabulating results.

"As an assistant chief, I answered poll worker questions about what do to in unusual situations, assisted the poll workers with using the equipment and keeping the equipment going, and I helped the chief with putting together the precinct's election results," Franke said.

Typically, election day begins at 5 a.m. for Franke and poll workers.

"The polls are open for 13 hours and the work of setting up and breaking down the precinct and getting the results to the elections office make for a 15-hour day at a minimum," Franke said.

She's seen election results from a different perspective than most voters.

"The first election I worked as a poll worker was during the 2000 presidential election, Bush v. Gore, which came to rest on fewer than 600 votes," Franke said. "I don't think that anyone alive at the time will ever forget the Florida recount and 'hanging chad.'"

Franke feels a deep sense of obligation to not only vote, but to ensure others' votes are counted as well.

"Many of our ancestors had very little say or voice in determining the course of their lives," Franke said. "They knew that having the right to vote would give them a voice, and they fought very hard for this right."

This year record numbers of voters turned out.

"My two most important reasons to vote are margins in election results send a message and can have major consequences; and secondly, there is much more to voting than the presidential race," she said. "Local and state elections really have a major impact on your life."

If a candidate or an initiative wins by a wide margin or large percentage, the results are rarely questioned, even by people who aren't happy with them. But if an election is very close, there could be recounts.

For instance, in the 2018 97th House of Delegates race, the recount ended with a tie and the winner's name was ultimately drawn out of a bowl by the Virginia Election Commission.

"This race decided which party was in power in the House of Delegates for the next two years, and these were big consequences," Franke said.

Franke decided not to serve as chief this year because of the extra days or more she anticipated it would take to count the ballots.

"I just cannot take that much time away from my job," she said.

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