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Elections Director casting a vote for retirement

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Debbie Bedford and Dawn Lovelace, who will become the Elections Director on April 1 upon Debbie's retirement.

Seven days after the Primary on March 3, Rutherford County Elections Director Debbie Bedford and Elections Specialist Dawn Lovelace were examining numbers and data for the final canvassing.

It was Debbie's last canvas of a political election in Rutherford County as she is officially retiring April 1. Having served at the helm of the elections department 25 years, a public reception will be held in her honor when it is possible.

Dawn, will step into the director's position beginning April 1. The two have worked together in the elections office, along with Angela Rhymer, also Elections Specialist, for years making sure the department runs as smoothly as possible and every eligible voter in Rutherford County has an opportunity to cast ballots.

For Debbie, the more than two decade on the job has been "fun" and rarely never a dull moment.

Some people think the elections staff work one or two days a year, but the work to prepare for elections is a daily process whether it is a municipal, state or national election.

One of her best days as Elections Director has been the final day of Early Voting.

"That is a huge day. We are coming off some very long days," Bedford said. Over the past few years, the hours were extended for Early Voting with polls opening at 8 a.m. and not closing until 7:30 p.m.

"On that day, the toughest and most physical part is over," she said. After Early Voting to the Primary or General elections, Bedford and her team are fielding phone calls and doing all the other jobs involved in voting. Every piece of voting equipment is tested and re-tested prior to Election Day.

"It is a process," she said.

In Rutherford County, 33 percent of registered voters went to the polls for Early Voting (One Stop Voting) in the March 3 primary. "In November, it will be 50 percent or more," she said.

Bedford is fan of Early Voting and recommends it highly.

While there were some questions at the precincts on March 3 regarding paper ballots, Bedford said it was a decision of the State and is actually more efficient, accurate and less expensive.

"And we can vote people faster," Bedford said. "Getting results is also faster," she said.

The Board of Elections department of unique in that it is funded by Rutherford County but controlled by the State of North Carolina.

The Presidential Election four years ago is one of the most memorable elections in her career with the popular vote going to Democrat Hillary Clinton and the electoral vote going to Republican Donald Trump, thus his election as President.

"That was interesting", she said.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of her jobs and time consuming has been all the lawsuits filed on the state and national level. Usually the topic is over changing voting districting.

"Some people, you will not make happy no matter what," she said.

But one of life's lessons Debbie has practiced over the years on the job is to treat people with kindness and talk to "them the right way." Often the most frustrated voter/caller will leave on a positive note.

'Sometimes they will change their attitude from negative too positive," she said.

It is all about treating people the proper way.

Debbie has also been on point that every person showing up to vote has an opportunity to do so. Even if voter arrives at the wrong precinct or is not registered, a voter can cast a provisional ballot. It is up to the elections staff and elections board to approve all provisionals. "We do not turn down a voter," she said. It is important for all voters to know how, where and when to vote.

"I will miss my poll workers," Debbie said. "We have the greatest poll workers," she said. "I will miss the staff and I will miss the people," she said.

But Debbie said she is ready for retirement. Before coming to the Board of Elections at the retirement of Lois Owens who had bene on the job 25 years, Debbie worked in Human Resources and also in the Employee Assistance Program.

Debbie plans to travel, spend more time with her husband Steven Bedford and their grown sons and one grandson.

A trip planned for April was canceled due to the coronavirus, but there will be another day to travel.

Part of Debbie's legacy is to encourage everyone to vote. It is a freedom and an honor.

"If you don't vote, don't complain," she said.

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