October 13, 2020
Marshall election officer gets “perky” to work polls
Photo/Don Del Rosso
With her customary pot of homemade chili to share at lunch, Ursual Baxley will join fellow election officials at the Marshall Ruritan Club Building around 4:45 a.m. to begin a 15-hour day on Nov. 3.
File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
Mrs. Baxley checks in a Marshall precinct voter during the November 2018 election.
It’s like when you’re asked to be on a jury, you do it, because it should be done by people who live in the community and care about the community. Plus, you get to see everyone you know.
— Election officer Ursula Baxley
• Marshall precinct election officer:
About 35 years.
Two grown children; three grandchildren; husband Henry died two years ago.
Associate’s degree, merchandising and retailing, Garland Junior College, Boston, 1964; Congressional High School, Fairfax County, 1962
2020 General Election
Donald Trump/Mike Pence (R)
Joe Biden/Kamala Harris (D)
Joe Jorgensen/Jeremy Cohen (L)
Mark Warner (D)
Daniel Gade (R)
U.S. House 1st District
Rob Wittman (R)
Qasim Rashid (D)
U.S. House 5th District
Cameron Webb (D)
Robert Good (R)
Va. Constitutional Amendment
To create a bipartisan commission for legislative redistricting
Tuesday, Nov. 3, with polls open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Early In-Person Voting
Started Friday, Sept. 18
Deadline Tuesday, Oct. 13
The veteran poll worker can think of no other place she’d rather be on Election Day than at the Marshall voting precinct.
“It’s the civic thing to do,” said Ursula Baxley, who checks in voters at the Marshall Ruritan Club Building at 8400 Salem Ave. “It’s like when you’re asked to be on a jury, you do it, because it should be done by people who live in the community and care about the community. Plus, you get to see everyone you know.”
In more than 35 years, Mrs. Baxley has worked every general election or primary except for two. The Marshall-area resident missed one because of a cruise vacation conflict and the other while recuperating from knee surgery.
On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Mrs. Baxley and about 350 other paid officers at 21 county precincts will help oversee the election.
Depending on their duties, they get paid $200, $150 or $125 for the sometimes 15-hour day. As the Marshall precinct’s second assistant chief, Mrs. Baxley will receive $150.
“You don’t do it for the money,” she said with a high-pitched laugh.
Helping to maintain the precinct’s poll books, Mrs. Baxley, 77, asks voters for identification, verifies their addresses and voting status and troubleshoots as needed.
All election officers — even the most seasoned among them — must take an annual two-hour training class. Besides a refresher, the course brings them up to speed on new changes to election laws.
Mrs. Baxley attended a session last week at the Warrenton Community Center.
The discussion also touched on COVID-19 issues, she said.
Workers must wear masks and face shields will be available to them, Mrs. Baxley said.
But, election officers can’t require voters to wear masks at polling places, she said.
“They’re encouraged to, but legally they don’t have to.”
Plexiglas will separate election officers from voters, and hand sanitizer will be at the ready for all, she said.
“The only thing I touch is your identification, and I have a glove on that hand,” Mrs. Baxley stressed.
Signs at all precincts will encourage social distancing, she added.
Mrs. Baxley never thought twice about working the upcoming election because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m not going to stop living, but I’m going to be careful,” she said. “I don’t use hand sanitizer because it makes my skin crappy. But, I have gone through several bars of soap in seven months.”
The election officer training session instructors also warned workers that some voters will have guns.
“I don’t see anything wrong with people carrying weapons,” Mrs. Baxley admitted. “But yet, I married a man that wouldn’t allow his children to have a water pistol and wouldn’t allow them to go bang-bang at a person, because he said that’s not what we do to one another. Even playing, that’s not what we do.”
Working the polls has become a ritual for her.
On election eve, Mrs. Baxley makes a pot of chili to share with her precinct colleagues and goes to bed at around 7 p.m. As a precaution, she sets a couple of clocks to rouse her at around 3 a.m. the next day.
“You set two alarms because you’re scared,” she said. “You don’t want to miss it. I have never overslept, because your body knows you’ve got to get up.”
Before heading to the Ruritan Club building at about 4:45 a.m. on Election Day, she reads and plays solitaire “to get perky for the polls,” said Mrs. Baxley, who likes detective novels. “You can’t go to the polls being sleepy. You’ve got to be wide awake. You’ve got to be on. It’s not like you’re going to a lecture where you can kind of drift off.”
Marshall Precinct Chief Verle Wright and Mrs. Baxley have worked elections together for 17 years.
“Ursula knows her stuff,” said Mr. Wright, 69. “She can answer most questions before she ever hollers for me. I can rely on her to make sure everything is done according to Hoyl.”
The precinct chief added: “She’s a workhorse, never quits — an excellent person. I don’t think you find many better.”
Election officer Joe Guite has worked the Marshall precinct for the past dozen years.
He described Mrs. Baxley as “very competent” and no-nonsense.
“She gets to the point,” Mr. Guite, 71, said with a soft laugh. “She’s one of those people you want to work with. It’s a long day. But she always keeps our sense of humor and everything else alive. She keeps you inspired, keeps you motivated.”
Former Marshall Precinct Chief Joan Fries and Mrs. Baxley worked elections side-by-side for about 25 years.
“Ursula was the ideal poll worker because you didn’t have to worry about her,” said Mrs. Fries, who quit the precinct chief’s job when she moved to Culpeper in 2010. “She took her responsibilities seriously. There was no horsing around.”
But Mrs. Baxley also has a sharp sense of humor, she said.
“If there was a lull and we had a big break, she would entertain us with stories,” Mrs. Fries said. “She’d keep us laughing.”
Mrs. Baxley, who coordinated American Red Cross blood drives in the community for decades, has no plans to quit working the Marshall precinct.
Yes, the 15-hour days can be tiring, especially at her age, she said. But nothing about the job fazes her.
“You’re exhausted. But it’s a good exhaustion. You’ve done the right thing.”
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Marshall Resident · October 14, 2020 at 7:41 am
Congratulations to Mrs. Baxley on this lovely profile. From what I've witnessed at the polling place, the praise here is highly accurate.
Also, many thanks to our brave poll workers!
Bin Bin · October 14, 2020 at 5:18 am
She can answer most questions before she ever hollers for me. I can rely on her to make sure everything is done according to Hoyl.”
I would love to read your blog posts tetris
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