Centre County commissioners busy on Election Day

Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe helps a student at Penn State’s HUB-Robeson Center on Election Day.
Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe helps a student at Penn State’s HUB-Robeson Center on Election Day. srafacz@centredaily.com

The polls are open between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. But the Centre County commissioners’ Election Day lasts a while longer.

Commissioners Michael Pipe, Steve Dershem and Mark Higgins started their day at 6 a.m. and predicted they’d be working until midnight or 1 a.m.

Dershem said that he and Pipe would be “glued” to Penn State’s HUB-Robeson Center on Election Day.

It’s the largest polling place in Pennsylvania — five precincts vote in Alumni Hall, he said.

At the HUB, volunteers were helping students figure out which precinct they vote in based on where they live. If students showed up to vote at the HUB, but it wasn’t their polling place, there was a map on hand of other student polling places.

Making sure people are at the right polling place is huge, Pipe said.

If this is someone’s first time voting and the experience goes well, he or she is more likely to come back and participate in the democratic process, he said.

On Election Day, Dershem said, the commissioners are troubleshooters.

He said part of their role is to resolve issues and make sure the process runs smoothly to yield a fair election.

Whether it be helping a student find his or her precinct or answering questions about provisional ballots, the commissioners are around to help.

He added that Penn State has been “wonderful” to work with.

About 400 volunteers across 91 precincts in Centre County aid the endeavor.

Some of those volunteers were students from Bellefonte Area High School.

Ed Fitzgerald, AP government teacher at Bellefonte, recruits students who are interested in the election process, said Shawn Barbrow, a counselor at Bellefonte.

About 65 students were spread throughout the county, helping to run the polls, he said.

“We’re very proud of our students,” Barbrow said.

And he gave a shoutout to Pipe and Dershem.

The HUB is a template for how polling places should be run, Barbrow said.

Every “I” has been dotted and “T” has been crossed, he said.

Meanwhile, Higgins was based out of the Willowbank Building in Bellefonte, and it was his first general election as commissioner. He said he didn’t know exactly what his day would look like, just that he’d go wherever needed.

And at about 10:30 a.m., that meant he left the Willowbank Building to help at a polling station in the State College area that was “overwhelmed.”

Helping on Election Day is one of the commissioners’ most important jobs, Higgins said.

“This is what democracy is all about,” Dershem said.

People have the chance to use the ballot box to speak to the future of the country, he said. It’s an “amazing” thing to watch.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz