Spotlight on 50-Year Alaska Pollworker Janette Hanneman

[Image via newsminer]

I always love it when local papers spotlight residents for longtime service to the election process – so I am delighted to share this piece from the Fairbanks, AK Daily News-Miner celebrating 50 years of service by pollworker Janette Hanneman:

The Airport Precinct has moved around over the years, from Fairbanks International Airport to Bowers Office Supply to Fred Meyer West to its current location at Pikes Waterfront Lodge. But through many of the changes, Janette Hanneman has been there, volunteering for almost 50 years.

Hanneman will be there again Tuesday, helping residents cast ballots and overseeing operations as the precinct’s chairwoman. 

“They make sure they have enough workers, and they’re responsible for getting voting equipment and ballots to the voting place and make sure everything’s ready to go on election day,” she said of her duties.

She noted that volunteers do receive a small stipend, “but most of us, we do it because we want to help the people.”

Hanneman, 88, drove north on the new Alaska Highway in 1953. Her soon-to-be husband, Glen Hanneman, spent a few years stationed in Fairbanks with the Army, and he sold Janette on Alaska.

“I wasn’t sure about that, but it worked out pretty well,” she said. 

It wasn’t until the youngest of her four children began school full time that the amiable Hanneman decided to volunteer with elections. Always with an allegory and a wry sense of humor, Hanneman explained the joy she derives from working precincts. 

“I like people and I like to talk with people and like to help them, and I just never wanted to quit. … It’s kind of addictive,” she said. [Emphasis added; raise your hand if this sounds familiar. Yeah, me too – DMCj]

Hanneman noted that people occasionally remark on her still volunteering, especially since she had been telling people of her plans to quit. 

“For the last few years, I’ve been seriously telling people I was going to quit. … Maybe I’ll give up on saying that,” she said. 

Though the basic job of volunteering for elections has remained the same, some of the specifics have changed. Precinct workers are no longer responsible for counting ballots, a task that at times turned late nights into early mornings.

And, of course, the locations have changed.

She enjoyed the Airport Precinct because travelers from throughout the state would cast ballots and “because there was a lot of activity and the days went pretty fast.” 

Hanneman also fondly recalled the Fred Meyer polling location because people could shop and vote at the same time. But when Kroger bought the chain, it implemented a no-politics policy, after which Jay Ramras offered his lodge. 

Hanneman also recalled the time her volunteer work resulted in a court appearance. 

“One guy — I don’t know where he was from or where he was going — he voted at our precinct and voted out at Fox also, and I found myself in court,” she said, while speculating alcohol contributed to the man’s transgression. 

In her spare time, Hanneman said she sings weekly in First Presbyterian Church’s choir, participates as a Golden Heart Greeter for Explore Fairbanks and attends ski or running races. Hanneman said she’s recognized most often nowadays for her Olympic-athlete grandsons, Reese and Logan Hanneman. 

Not to be left out, Janette Hanneman is a lifelong member of Running Club North, was named the club’s Most Inspirational Runner of the Year in 2015 and still participates in local races. 

“I don’t run anymore, but I enjoy going out and coming in last. I like the Golden Heart Trail Run up on Birch Hill. I did one up at the University, a 5K, not too long ago. I like to do the Midnight Sun Run, I haven’t given that one up yet,” she said.

Back at the polling precinct, Hanneman said she gets discouraged by low voter turnout. Although it can be hard to determine actual participation during the day because of absentee voting, she had some strong words for people who skirt their civic duties.

“If they don’t vote, they have no right to complain. If you don’t make an effort to be a part of it, then be quiet.”

People like Janette Hanneman are the reason why I love what do – dedicated to the work, generous with their time and enthusiastic about helping their fellow Americans navigate the voting process. I don’t know about you, but this is the kind of story that makes me feel really good – especially since the intensity will only increase with Election Day just five weeks from today. Thanks for being there, Janette; we salute you and the hundreds of thousands like you who make democracy work in the United States. Stay tuned …

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